- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2003

Too bad moral victories don't carry any sort of weight in the NBA.
Things could not have gone any better for the Washington Wizards for a good part of their matinee against the Dallas Mavericks yesterday at MCI Center. They carved out a huge lead against the best team in the league, rallied from a fourth-quarter deficit in front of a sold-out, partisan crowd of 20,173 screaming fans and with a shot to win it in regulation got the ball into the hands of the player considered the greatest competitor in the game's history.
But Steve Nash ripped to shreds a would-be fairy-tale ending, scoring nine points in overtime to push the Mavericks to 106-101 victory.
"There are some positives in the scheme of the game," said Jerry Stackhouse, who along with Michael Jordan led the Wizards with 30 points. "But nobody in this locker room is happy about anything. The ebb and flow, the fight, the wherewithal, it's all good stuff. But it's not going to help us rest easy tonight."
What will stick with the Wizards (26-29) is the 18-point, first-quarter lead they squandered by the middle of the third quarter.
And what won't matter much is the valiant manner in which they chopped away at a 12-point Dallas lead in the fourth quarter or Jordan's 18-footer at the end of regulation that rimmed out with the game knotted at 90-90.
"I thought we had a good hold on this team in the first period," said Jordan, who also pulled down nine rebounds. "Then we took a little relaxation period there and let them back into the game. We just didn't hold them to the fire. And this team, once they get into a rhythm, they can come back at you hard."
And they did. After the Wizards used a 16-0 run to go up 21-4, Dallas outscored them 102-80 the rest of the way.
As a result, the Wizards lost for the first time in 17 games this season in which they have scored at least 100 points. The loss also was the first in seven games in which Jordan has gone over 30 points.
The Wizards have talked about beating teams with superior talent in the second half of the season, and Dallas (44-12) falls neatly into that category. A victory yesterday, coupled with the Wizards' victory on Friday over the Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey Nets, would have made this a special stretch for the Wizards.
But the loss means a team that has fallen to ninth overall in the Eastern Conference now must try to win at Indiana tomorrow against a team that has beaten it 11 consecutive times in the Hoosier state.
"It's not going to get any easier for us," Wizards coach Doug Collins said. "It's not. Our guys played well today, and I'm proud of them. But we've got another tough one coming up Tuesday and then against Houston."
It's hard to envision the competition getting any tougher than it was yesterday. The Mavericks got 29 points and 10 rebounds from Dirk Nowitzki; 22 points, 10 assists and six rebounds from Nash; and 24 points and six rebounds from Michael Finley. They even got double-digit scoring performances from reserves Nick Van Exel (10) and Maryland alum Walt Williams (10).
For Washington, Juan Dixon came off the bench to score 16 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter, and Tyronn Lue added 12 points.
The Wizards shaved a 12-point fourth-quarter lead to 90-87, and Stackhouse drilled a 3-pointer to tie it with 27.8 to play in regulation.
The Wizards got another shot to win it when Nowitzki missed a 3-pointer. But Jordan, guarded by Raja Bell, saw his shot hit the back of the rim as time ran out.
"I got exactly what I want. I had a great look, but it hit the back of the rim," Jordan said.
And that was all the opening Nash needed. Nash made all three of his shots, including a 3-pointer that gave the Mavericks a 95-90 lead early in overtime. And he scored four of the Mavericks' final five points.
"We just couldn't stop them," Collins said after the Mavericks made six of seven shots in overtime. "We just couldn't stop them when we had to."
Trailing 104-101, the Wizards had a chance to tie the game, but Finley got a piece of Dixon's attempted 3-pointer.
"He was stroking it in the fourth quarter," Finley said. "I just did what I could to contest it."

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