- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2003

INDIANAPOLIS — The Washington Wizards got a chance to measure themselves against the best the East has to offer. They came up short.

The Indiana Pacers (17-5) overcame poor shooting from their best players but still had no problem with the Wizards (7-13) last night, winning 93-79 before 14,902 at Conseco Fieldhouse.

The Wizards have lost six of their last seven games and 11 of their last 15 and missed a chance to record back-to-back wins for the third time this season.

The Pacers are better and far more physical than the Wizards — who are still without the services of Jerry Stackhouse and Gilbert Arenas.

“That’s a veteran team that knows how to win; they gut it out,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said “Our guys fought but it looked like I had to change diapers after about four or five minutes at the end of the game because it looked like everyone on the floor was under 22, I think.”

That was a reference to those playing at the end of the game including Steve Blake, Juan Dixon, Jared Jeffries, Kwame Brown and Jarvis Hayes. Average age: 22.6.

That same lineup helped the Wizards close what had been a 22-point deficit with 7:51 left in the game to 83-73 with 3:37 to play.

But back-to back baskets by Kenny Anderson and Al Harrington put the game out of reach 87-73.

The Pacers’ maturity enabled them to hold on and thrive when they were not at their best.

Their superior toughness showed in the way they manhandled the Wizards under the basket, where they forged a 45-31 rebounding advantage. The Wizards had a season-low three offensive boards and the Pacers had 13.

The Pacers also used outstanding ball movement to set up their baskets. Twenty-seven of the team’s 38 field goals were assisted. By comparison, Washington had 17 assists on its 32 baskets.

“Rebounding was the key for us,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “They have a good team and they kept coming at us. But we stayed with the things that we do well.”

Their tenacity on the boards helped the Central Division-leading Pacers — who came home from a grueling five-game West Coast trip — on a night when Ron Artest (16 points, game-high nine assists) and Jermaine O’Neal (15 points, nine rebounds) combined to shoot 12 of 33 from the floor.

The Wizards got a nice effort from Brown for the second time in as many games. After scoring a season-high 18 in the win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday, Brown made six of eight field goals and finished with a team-high 17 points. Larry Hughes added 16 and Dixon had 10.

Last night’s loss marked the second game in a row the Wizards went with a starting lineup that included Etan Thomas (four points, three boards), Christian Laettner (10 points, seven rebounds) and Blake (four points, four turnovers and two assists)

Early on, Indiana looked as if it had left its game out west, missing its first nine shots from the floor and falling behind 6-0.

Even though it took the Pacers almost four minutes to score their first basket — a short jumper from Reggie Miller (eight points, seven assists), the Wizards never took advantage of the slow start.

When reserve forward Austin Croshere sank a 3-pointer at the start of the second quarter, the Pacers had the lead for the rest of the game.

“We came out tonight and we wanted to be aggressive,” Brown said. “We had a good practice before the game. But they’re the best team in the Eastern Conference.”

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