- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Washington Wizards coach Doug Collins could see it in his players' eyes. A three-game losing streak had begun to chip away at the Wizards' confidence, and those looks last night portended even worse things to come, especially with the rising Phoenix Suns visiting MCI Center.
"I could just sense in our team, because of the Minnesota game, that they were starting to lose their confidence," Collins said. "Because we have had these situations where we get bogged down. Balls were getting stripped out of our hands, missed layups, shot-clock violations and turnovers. I just told our guys, 'You've got to play to win. You can't play not to lose.'"
These words of wisdom weren't wasted on Jerry Stackhouse. The Wizards guard came up with a huge sequence of plays down the stretch to ensure a 98-93 victory over the Suns, ending Washington's skid.
Stackhouse would not let the Wizards (22-23) lose to the road-weary Suns (26-20), and he came up with a big shot and an even larger block in the final 30 seconds of the game to avoid what would have been another damaging loss. After all, the Wizards stood in position to blow a 15-point lead at home for the second time in three days.
With the game tied 91-91 and the Wizards seemingly on the ropes, Stackhouse hit a driving layup with 39.7 seconds remaining. Then he rose to reject a dunk attempt by Phoenix center Scott Williams, meeting Williams hand to hand over the rim.
"I guess it was a big play in the game, but I think as a collective unit we got our defensive stops when we had to," said Stackhouse, who could be named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team today. "That was the end result of it."
Stackhouse then was fouled and extended the Washington lead to 95-91 by sinking both free throws. That prompted 20,173 spectators at MCI Center to offer a standing ovation.
"That was incredible," Collins said of Stackhouse's play. "That's the kind of play that builds confidence from the standpoint that Stack goes up and blocks that shot and wins the game. That's the kind of play where you look back on it later and say that could have a dramatic effect on this team as you're moving forward. I mean, that was unbelievable what he did."
Said Michael Jordan: "It was a game-saving block. Stack has the talent for blocking shots when he wants to go get them. That was a big block for us because it was a definite two points [for the Suns]."
Stackhouse scored 21 points in the first half and finished with a game-high 33. He also handed out nine assists, meaning he has reached that total in three of the last four games.
Jordan finished with 19 points and seven rebounds but missed a crucial free throw with 19.8 seconds to play that would have given the Wizards a four-point buffer.
However, a horrible possession by Phoenix that included a blown layup by Shawn Marion and an errant 3-point attempt by Casey Jacobsen helped nail the Suns' fate.
Of course, Stackhouse sealed it. After he was fouled by Joe Johnson with 3.7 seconds left, Stackhouse's free throws put the game out of reach. Phoenix was out of timeouts and Stephon Marbury's subsequent heave was irrelevant.
All in all, Stackhouse scored 10 of the Wizards' last 15 points, going 8-for-8 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter.
But all anyone in the Wizards' locker room wanted to talk about was Stackhouse's block.
"I don't think he wears that 42 for nothing I think he's got a 42-inch vertical leap," reserve forward Bryon Russell said. "He went up and got the clean block. And that's what we needed. It was huge for us."
Christian Laettner finished with 12 points and eight boards, and Tyronn Lue came off the bench to score 10 points for the Wizards.
Marbury led the Suns with 29 points and eight assists. Johnson and Marion both finished with 21 points, and Marion also collected 13 rebounds.
The victory might help the Wizards start to forget Saturday's loss to Minnesota. The Wizards blew a 15-point halftime lead against the Timberwolves, and the defeat sent them reeling. The Wizards led by as much as 15 points again last night, the latest at 66-51 with 4:37 left in the third, and again couldn't hold on to the lead.
Collins said he shook the team up during the morning shootaround but didn't want to speculate on the possible ramifications of another such loss.
"There is a fine line between success and failure," Collins said. "Enjoy it, please. We won. We didn't lose."
The Wizards controlled the action the entire first half by moving the basketball around to get open shots and forcing turnovers at the other end. Meanwhile, the Suns looked like a West Coast team that was playing its fifth game in seven nights.
But the Suns started to chip away at the Wizards' lead late in the third quarter, with Marbury driving into the heart of the Washington defense and drilling 3-pointers to pull the Suns within 69-61.
With 8:27 left in the game, Marion hit one of two free throws to close the Suns within 79-72 with more than eight minutes to play.
Jordan responded with a jumper, but that did little to slow Phoenix, which suddenly was playing with significantly more confidence than the home team.
The Suns cut the lead to 89-87 on a basket by Marion. However, Laettner's tip-in of a missed shot restored the Wizards' lead to 91-87. Marion missed a 3-pointer on the Suns' next possession, but the Wizards failed to convert. And at the other end, Williams' dunk pulled the Suns within 91-89 with 2:08 to play.
Washington failed to beat the 24-second clock on its next possession, and Marion, fouled by Russell, tied the game at 91-91 with 53.2 seconds left. However, the Suns got just one more basket the rest of the way, a 14-footer by Marbury.

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