- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 7, 2002

Not even 24 hours removed from blowing a late lead against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Washington Wizards found themselves in an eerily similar position against the upstart Cleveland Cavaliers.

But instead of fumbling their way to the end of last night's game, the Wizards ended what they started, closing out the Cavaliers 107-100 to nudge their record to 2-3.

In their loss the night before, the Wizards' offense failed as they suffered through a 2-for-22 shooting stretch in the fourth quarter and blew a late 14-point lead.

But against Cleveland, the Wizards clamped down defensively when it mattered. After a 17-point advantage in the first half became a 73-66 edge at the end of three quarters, Washington opened the fourth with a 14-6 run that included eight straight points to open up an 15-point lead with under six minutes to play.

Cleveland, a young team perhaps still intoxicated with its stunning 19-point win over the Los Angeles Lakers the night before, never seriously challenged again.

Leading the Wizards, who will be in Cleveland on Saturday, was Jerry Stackhouse. Stackhouse started hot and finished strong before a sellout MCI Center crowd of 20,173 with a game-high 35 points on 9-for-16 shooting.

"He sets the tone, obviously," Michael Jordan said. "It makes another threat on the basketball court. My job is to basically keep that momentum going when he comes out of the game. I'm going to try to do everything I can to keep him in his rhythm when we're in the game together."

Stackhouse did what he does best, penetrating his way to the basket and getting to the free throw line, where he was an efficient 15-for-17 to set an MCI Center record for made free throws.

Stackhouse said the Wizards talked about the loss the night before but did not dwell on it. He said last night was a different situation altogether.

"We needed to come out with a sense of urgency because that definitely left a bad taste in our mouths," Stackhouse said. "We felt like we won 3½ quarters but lost the game. But that happens. Hopefully, some nights it's going to work in our favor like that."

Wizards coach Doug Collins was much more effusive in his praise of Stackhouse, who is laid back by nature. Along with attributing the victory to Stackhouse's aggressive play, Collins also was complimentary of the Wizards' big men, who helped neutralize Zydrunas Ilgauskas (3-for-14, six points).

"Our big guys really played well tonight," Collins said. "They made him work. He's a guy that can really hurt you, and he wasn't much of a problem for us tonight."

Stackhouse was complemented by decent games from Larry Hughes (season-high 13 points, five assists) and Kwame Brown, who finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and a blocked shot.

Ricky Davis led Cleveland (2-3) with 27 points. Rookie Smush Parker added 11 points in reserve.

The Wizards delivered a nearly flawless performance in the first quarter, shooting 58 percent from the field while holding the Cavaliers to 5-for-17. Stackhouse was the epicenter of the Wizards' early eruption, connecting on five of seven from the floor and hitting all four of his free throws for 17 points on the way to outscoring the Cavaliers by himself.

But so far this season the Wizards have had problems sustaining a consistent level of play, and that held true in the second quarter. Washington made five of 17 field goals in the quarter and scored just 18 points.

"We have to stay aggressive," Stackhouse said. "The offense will come together. But you have to stay aggressive at all times out there."

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers got hot, particularly as halftime drew near. Down by 11 points with 3:32 left in the half, Cleveland clamped down on the defensive end, limiting the Wizards to one field goal the rest of the way. Meanwhile, they closed in a flourish, outscoring the Wizards 10-2 to pull within 46-43.

Stackhouse, who cooled considerably in the second quarter, found his stride again and added 10 more points in the third quarter to give the Wizards a 73-66 lead going into the fourth.

It was a lead that could have been even larger for the Wizards had instant replay not taken away an 18-foot jump shot by Hughes as time expired in the quarter. That marked the first time this season the new rule was used to reverse what appeared to be a basket for the Wizards.

The Wizards' lead was in double figures for much of the fourth quarter. In fact, it got as high as 18 points with just under three minutes to play, but the Cavaliers made a late-game rush.

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