- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 20, 2003

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It’s always sweet to go back to the places where some of your best memories were made — as long as you don’t find yourself having a nightmare.

Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan, an assistant in New Jersey for the previous four seasons, indeed will have bad dreams when he thinks of the Wizards’ 97-87 loss to the Nets last night before 13,227 at Continental Airlines Arenas.

Jordan will recall the Wizards turning the ball over a season-high 25 times. He’ll also remember a horrible start that saw them fall behind by 20 points, rally and then run out of gas down the stretch.

But mostly he’ll remember facing a team that was simply better than the (8-17) Wizards.

“We probably didn’t know what we were walking into until we stepped out on the floor at the jump ball,” Jordan said.

What they walked into was an angry Nets team rocked by internal strife that at times threatened to tear apart the two-time Eastern Conference champions.

However, the Nets now have won six of their last seven games. And with Philadelphia losing to Cleveland, the Nets (13-12) took over first place in the Atlantic Division.

With the score tied 9-9, the Nets outscored the Wizards 21-5 the rest of the first quarter. They built their lead to 20 points with 5:15 to play in the second period, and the Wizards never recovered.

“They started to put it on us in the first half,” said rookie forward Jarvis Hayes, who led the Wizards by matching his career high with 22 points. “They beat us up pretty good in the first half. … We couldn’t run our sets, and we couldn’t defend their sets. And they run the same sets that we do.”

Despite the abominable start, the Wizards climbed back into the game in the third quarter. Steve Blake (11 points) gave the Wizards a huge jolt as Washington used a 24-13 run to close within 57-54 on Blake’s 3-pointer with 4:29 left in the quarter. The former Maryland star scored nine points on three consecutive 3-pointers.

But New Jersey’s defense stiffened for the rest of the period, holding the Wizards to two more baskets as New Jersey staged a 16-5 run and took a 73-59 lead into the fourth quarter.

Washington cut the lead to 82-77 on Hayes’ jumper with 4:34 remaining, But the Nets shrugged that off with a 11-0 run to seal the win.

For the Nets, the victory was clearly the byproduct of their tenacious defense. They had a season-high 18 steals and held Washington to 38.5 shooting (30-for-78). In fact, the Wizards shot better from behind the 3-point line (11-for-23) than they did overall.

“We did an excellent job of forcing turnovers and got some easy baskets,” said New Jersey’s Kenyon Martin, who finished with his 10th double-double (22 points, 14 rebounds). “We got stops down the stretch. We were all going out there doing what we are supposed to do.”

Hayes was one of five Wizards to score in double figures. Larry Hughes finished with 17 points but made only six of 20 shots. Etan Thomas scored 12 and Juan Dixon 11.

Nets guard Jason Kidd scored his 10,000th career point with 5:09 left in the third quarter.

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