- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 3, 2002

The Nets dropped into town to provide an early-season measure of the Wizards, as the Nets meet the definition of an elite team in the Eastern Conference, the NBA's junior circuit.
The anticipation beat the offering in Tony Cheng's neighborhood last night.
Final score: Nets 87, Wizards 79.
The shooting by both teams was modest, the continuity uneven. It was guts basketball, all bruises and floor burns, and mostly in favor of the Nets late in the fourth quarter.
The Wizards always seemed to be a basket away, a rebound away, a loose ball away from the Nets.
When it mattered most, Jason Kidd made the play, either with a basket or a pass or a steal.
It is what Kidd does, as Wizards coach Doug Collins noted.
"He showed to me again why he is talked about being the MVP of this league," Collins said.
The Wizards, flaws and all, closed to one point with 8:13 left following a basket by Jerry Stackhouse.
"We really competed," Collins said. "But their defense sort of smothered us, and that was the difference in the game."
This was the uneven version of the Wizards, a step up from inept.
Up, down. Down, up. The Wizards are overdue to be merely competent one night. The Wizards are off to a 1-2 start, and off to Minneapolis on Tuesday night.
Dikembe Mutombo made the opening basket of the game, with the sweeping hook shot that takes about 30 minutes to release. It was a sure sign that all was not right with the basketball world.
The Wizards appeared to come down with what bedeviled them in Toronto. They could not sink an open jump shot. They were unable to push the ball in transition. They appeared to be strangers to one another at times.
Here: Larry, this is Jerry. Jerry, this is Bryon.
Yes, Jerry, that is really how Bryon spells his name. Same thing with Tyronn.
Michael Jordan tried to make it interesting in the waning minutes, looking for the ball each time down the floor. Jordan, with the ball, wound up being interesting only because of what it revealed about the late-game dynamic between Jordan and Stackhouse. It remains Jordan's team, for better or worse.
Jordan might have made a difference if he had not missed so many open shots before warming up late in the contest. Jordan finished with 21 points on 7-for-16 shooting in 27 minutes. It must have been contagious.
The Wizards made only 37.3 percent of their field goal attempts, the Nets 39.2 percent.
This was the second of back-to-back games for the Nets and a reminder that the divide between the haves and have-nots in the East remains slight, to the everlasting torment of the Pacers. The Pacers nearly upset the Nets in the first round of the playoffs last season and waited all summer to be convinced anew the night before last. It worked out to nine technical fouls, three ejections and an 11-point victory by the Nets.
The Nets are an example of what the Wizards hope this season can be, of what can happen with endemic patsies in an 82-game instant.
The Nets are coming off an improbable trip to the NBA Finals and an offseason that resulted in the acquisitions of Mutombo and Rodney Rogers, the response to the team-wide cry to have more conviction around the three-second lane.
As it was, the Nets claimed three of the four meetings with the Wizards last season, including a 44-point thumping in New Jersey last January. The one triumph by the Wizards, last New Year's Eve, was prompted by a 45-point performance from Jordan. No such lifting is expected to be necessary after the Wizards become familiar with one another.
"I would think early in the season, the lack of consistency is a given," Collins said. "We have eight new players on the team and five new players in the starting lineup."
Kwame Brown has decided to accelerate his rate of development, and the team's mishmash of young and old is being sorted out, in dramatic fashion: a 68-point dud in Toronto and a 45-point victory at home against a team, the Celtics, that advanced to the conference finals last season.
The Wizards expressed no fear around the Nets. They just lacked the know-how to finish the assignment.
"It takes time," Collins said. "That team [Nets] won 26 games two seasons ago."
That team showed the Wizards where they are at this early juncture in the season.


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