- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 7, 2002

Nothing turns the Wizards to mush like a 17-point lead in the second quarter.

One defensive three-second call led to another, which led to an outbreak of carelessness and a three-point lead at halftime.

The Cavaliers represented a reprieve on the schedule, though a somewhat more resilient foe than imagined.

Ricky Davis went into a funky dance after dunking the ball late in the first half.

This was the insult to the injury, usually a sure way to get the home team's attention. His lack of manners was noted by the Wizards last season, his premature outburst of joy not unexpected.

This, after all, is the Cavaliers, a couple of weeks away from being irrelevant and determined to enjoy what is left of their prospects, slim and none. The Cavaliers have not had a winning season since 1998, just three coaches and the distant torment of Michael Jordan sinking the game-winning shot over Craig Ehlo.

The Wizards were inclined to be appreciative of the visit following their four-point loss in Minneapolis the previous night and unsteady manner in the first week of the season.

The Wizards eventually reacquainted themselves with the orange cylinder, too often an object of contempt this season, in defeating the Cavaliers 107-100 on Fun Street last night.

The Wizards are motivated not to repeat the 2-9 beginning last season. Their 2-3 start qualifies as almost hopeful, the 107 points as an encouraging sign after the 68 points in Toronto, the 79 points at home against the Nets and the 86 points in Minnesota.

Offense like that is liable to give a bad name to Jerry Stackhouse, Larry Hughes and Bryon Russell, the offseason acquisitions expected to increase the 80-90 point output favored by Chris Whitney, Popeye Jones, Richard Hamilton and Jahidi White. Their margin for error was small, one of the favorite observations of coach Doug Collins last season, and one he is not eager to spout anew.

Yet it is the absence of punch that has left the Wizards vulnerable in the early going, possibly the second surprise of the season, if Jordan still coming off the bench through five games qualifies as the first.

Jordan, held scoreless in the first half, was the victim of a slick steal by Davis. Jordan missed one driving layup to the basket and then claimed the officials missed the foul. In his last season with the Bulls, in 1998, Jordan would have finished the play with emphasis, foul or no foul. He even might have finished it last season before his knees started to misbehave.

The Wizards regained control of the contest in the third quarter, mostly behind the all-around play of Stackhouse. For someone who finished with a game-high 35 points, Stackhouse spent a lot of time on the floor, picking up loose balls and floor burns in equal numbers. He also lived awfully well at the free throw line, making 15 of 17 attempts. Not even Jordan earned that many free throw attempts in any game last season.

It was Stackhouse's most productive game with the Wizards, and coincidentally, the team surpassed the 100-point mark.

Stackhouse demonstrated some of his razzle-dazzle in the open court, as originally anticipated but somewhat restrained before this display.

The Wizards led by seven points going into the final 12 minutes, nearly their same margin of comfort the previous night in Minneapolis. They held up considerably better the second time around. Jordan finally registered a field goal early in the fourth quarter, and soon enough, the lead was comfortable and the time just right for Juan Dixon to enter the game.

The Wizards are likely to remain a source of consternation to both the team's coaches and supporters until January.

The Wizards can lead 19-3 one moment and seemingly be on the verge of putting away a bad team playing on the road, only to lose their sense of direction and purpose in the next moment. The Wizards can have the Timberwolves in a bad way, ahead by 12 points late in the third quarter, only to fall apart on 2-for-22 shooting in the fourth quarter.

The Lakers are in town tomorrow night, with the Zen master in tow, though he is expected to be asleep on the bench, his customary pose at this time of year. Shaquille O'Neal remains on the shelf, so the timing could not be better for the Wizards.

That is no small favor for a team trying to find itself after five games, and not quite certain of what each quarter might bring.

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