- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 6, 2002

MINNEAPOLIS For three quarters last night against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Washington Wizards appeared to have shot themselves out of the offensive funk that plagued them in their two losses this season. Their jump shots fell true, they got baskets in transition and they headed into the fourth quarter up by nine points and poised to get a four-games-in-five-nights stretch started the right way.

Then came the fourth quarter, when their shooting turned as cold as the biting Minnesota weather outside Target Center.

The Wizards shot 2-for-22 on field goal attempts and scored 11 points in the final period in losing an 11-point lead to a team playing its fourth game in five nights and without three of its top players. The Timberwolves won 90-86 before 18,009.

The Wizards simply couldn't get anything to go down in the fourth as the Timberwolves slowly clawed their way back. By the time Tyronn Lue made the Wizards' first field goal of the fourth at the 5:08 mark Washington's lead was only 82-78.

The Timberwolves just kept coming. They scored the next seven points, the last three after Kendall Gill hit a 3-pointer that followed a scramble for a loose ball, to take an 85-82 lead with 2:50 to go. For good measure, Gill who scored nine of his 22 points in the period and helped force Michael Jordan into an 0-for-4 fourth quarter hit a jumper to make it 89-84 with 56.1 seconds left.

Jordan scored 10 points on 5-for-14 shooting and had two shots blocked, one by Gill, and missed a third in the final two minutes.

"[Jordan] is a legend. I wish I could see him the way he used to play," Gill said. "It seems like he is holding back a bit."

Said Jordan: "We've got to be in sync. Everybody's expecting to me to take over in the fourth quarter, but a lot of times the defenses are focusing on me and I have to get the ball to the right people, and we didn't hit any jump shots. We shot 2-for-22 in the fourth quarter, and you can't finish games like that."

The Wizards (1-3) led by 12 points in the closing seconds of the third before a wasted possession on which they didn't even attempt a shot resulted in a shot clock violation with 2.5 seconds left. Troy Hudson, who scored 17 points, took the inbounds pass and hit a running, 35-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer a shot that seemingly provided the impetus for Minnesota's comeback in the fourth quarter.

"No doubt about it, [Hudsons 3] gave them a lift," Wizards coach Doug Collins said. "We had the ball up 12 with a chance to push it to 14. I didn't draw up a good play. It was a huge momentum swing. It was the worst thing that could have happened."

Still, the Wizards extended their lead early in the fourth quarter, and Bryon Russell's free throw with 10:17 left put them up 79-68. Then everything went south.

Kevin Garnett had 17 points and 16 rebounds for the Timberwolves. The loss exacerbated the problems the Wizards had in two previous losses; They held their opponents to 76.7 points per game but, except for a record-setting night in routing Boston, had failed to come through with productive offense to complement the defense.

"We had a lot of broken offense, and shots don't tend to go down on broken offense," Jerry Stackhouse said. "You earn good shots and you get the ball moving and the ball swings to the right place, shots normally fall."

Stackhouse had 25 points but missed all five of his field goal attempts in the fourth quarter, personifying the plight of the Wizards' guards, who had hit a good percentage of their jump shots through three quarters.

The Wizards had been 8-3 at Target Center in their history and figured to have a good shot at their ninth victory with Wally Szczerbiak, Joe Smith and Terrell Brandon injured for Minnesota.

As they have in each game this season, the Wizards came out with a less-than-stellar performance in the first quarter, shooting 7-for-21 from the field. Hudson opened the game 5-for-5 and scored 11 points in the first quarter, after which the Wizards trailed 25-21.

The Wizards were trailing 35-31 midway through the second quarter when Lue hit a 3-pointer from the left corner. Thomas followed with three free throws on the next two possessions, and when Stackhouse caught a nifty pass from Christian Laettner in midair and finished with a layup, the Wizards' 8-0 run left them leading 39-35 with 5:12 before halftime.

Lue and Etan Thomas weren't done. Thomas swatted Rasho Nesterovic, and Lue converted a pair of free throws on the other end. Eighty seconds later, Thomas cupped the rebound of Laettner's miss and emphatically slammed it home. He then added another pair of free throws he made five of six attempts in the quarter for a 47-38 lead.

The Wizards led 51-43 at halftime. With the exception of two baskets in the second quarter, all of the Wizards' 30 points were scored by or assisted on by a bench player.

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