- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2003

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. The New Jersey Nets would love to have their best player on the court in all instances. But even when Jason Kidd can't go, the Nets have enough in reserve to beat most Eastern Conference teams, the Washington Wizards included.

Last night the Nets lost Kidd for the entire fourth quarter with a strained right groin, but that made little difference. In Kidd's absence, Kenyon Martin delivered a dominating performance with 19 points and 21 rebounds, and Richard Jefferson had 24 points and six rebounds to rally the Nets to an 86-78 victory over the Wizards at Continental Airlines Arena.

"We kissed away a golden opportunity," Wizards coach Doug Collins said. "I mean, no Jason Kidd, no Kerry Kittles. You've got a great opportunity."

But there was more to it. When it mattered most, the Nets, who reached the NBA Finals last year for the first time, were tougher than the Wizards when they had to be.

"We physically and mentally broke down for about six minutes and that's when they won the game," Collins said.

The Nets used a 26-6 run that bridged the third and fourth quarters to go from trailing 53-46 to leading 72-59.

Most of this was accomplished without Kidd on the floor. Kidd, who leads the Nets in scoring (20.4) and assists (8.4), left the game for good with 3:22 left in the third quarter. He finished the game with just four points on 1-for-10 shooting, and had just four assists.

Jerry Stackhouse, who led the Wizards with 27 points, didn't want to talk about the Nets playing without Kidd. He felt that Kidd's teammates stepped up and did what they are supposed to do when they don't have their best player in the lineup.

"That doesn't matter," said Stackhouse, who fouled out in the final eight seconds. "They are a good team. They have other guys. They are a good team because they have other guys who can step up and play without him. His style of play is infectious on that team. They have guys who want to get in there and want to make the great pass.

"That's where we've got to get to," Stackhouse said. "Everybody wants to get the ball and score. But you have to do what you can to help the team and make the team better."

Some Nets players felt Martin, whose rebound total last night was a career high, should have made the All-Star team. But Martin said he was just stepping in and making plays.

"I would love to be going to the All-Star Game but I'm not," Martin said. "Oh, well. Too bad. I just need to focus on doing what I can do to make us better. That's the most important thing I can do."

Washington did rally late in the game, going on 16-4 run that shaved the lead to 78-73, but couldn't sustain the comeback.

"They just took it to us," Stackhouse said. "They out-hustled us, got to more loose balls, contested more shots and made us work for stuff, and we didn't. So that was the difference in the game."

Once again the Wizards were outplayed in the second half. It has happened recently against Toronto, Golden State and Minnesota.

In the second half, which began with Wizards ahead 43-39, the Nets shot the ball better, out-rebounded Washington (23-19) and got to the free-throw line with much more frequency (22 trips to the Wizards' seven).

"That has been the M.O. of the team," Michael Jordan said. "We just can't get a good 48 minutes of basketball in. We play hard but we hit a bad stretch. Kenyon was a man against boys. A couple of their guys were out and we never really capitalized."

Kittles, the Nets' starting shooting guard, missed the game because of "personal problems," according to the Nets.

Wizards guard Larry Hughes finished with 12 points. In his final career appearance here, Jordan scored eight points on 4-for-16 shooting.

Early on, the Wizards played like a cohesive unit, despite being hit with some adversity when Jordan was whistled for his second foul with 7:44 left in the first quarter. He spent the rest of the quarter on the bench, forcing the Wizards to go with Tyronn Lue for extended minutes.

However, the Wizards made do without Jordan primarily by playing smothering defense to hold the Atlantic Division-leading Nets to 6-for-22 shooting from the floor.

When Jordan returned in the second quarter, the Wizards were playing well. Leading 19-17 at the as the period began, Washington opened with a 13-6 run for a 32-23 lead.

With their shots not falling from the floor New Jersey hit 27 percent in the first quarter the Nets turned up their defense to forge their way back into the game.

With Jefferson picking up most of the scoring slack and the Nets locking down on the Wizards defensively, New Jersey went on an 11-0 run that reduced the Wizards' lead.

This coincided with the Nets holding Washington to just one field goal Stackhouse's 20-footer which came with 24.8 seconds left before halftime.

Still, the Wizards led by Stackhouse's 12 points managed to lead 43-39 at the half.

The Wizards built that lead mostly because they made their free throws (11-for-12) and the Nets hardly got to the line (4-for-7). Also, New Jersey was horrible from long range, shooting 1-of-7 from behind the 3-point line.

Considering how the Wizards performed the last time they played the Nets here, this had to be viewed as improvement. In that game, a 79-65 loss last month, the Wizards had 28 points at halftime.

Trips up the New Jersey Turnpike in recent years for the Wizards have been nothing short of horrendous. The Wizards haven't won here since they defeated the Nets in November 1999. More recently, they have been beaten here by 44 points (last season), and on their last visit the Nets limited the Wizards to a franchise-low 65 points.

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