- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2003

Even at full strength, the odds against the Washington Wizards beating the San Antonio Spurs are long.

Take away their second-leading scorer — which is what a controversial call by a referee did in the second quarter of last night’s game — and the odds become even greater.

So it was not much of a surprise the Spurs extended the Wizards’ losing streak to four games with a 95-71 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 20,173 at MCI Center.

The way the Spurs played, it’s difficult to envision Larry Hughes’ presence having much of an impact on the outcome even if he had played the entire 48 minutes.

San Antonio’s defense suffocated Washington into shooting 33.7 percent from the floor. Washington was at its worst in the middle quarters. It scored nine points in the second quarter, then made three of 19 shots in a third quarter that saw them fall behind by as much as 70-47.

The Wizards (3-6) were a combined 7-for-36 in the second and third quarters.

“I have great respect for that team that we just played,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “But we just couldn’t make shots. They did a good job defensively. But after they outscored us 24-9 in the second quarter they sort of tasted blood and they finished us off.”

So completely outclassed were the Wizards that San Antonio (6-5) used its reserves for most of the fourth quarter. Two-time reigning MVP Tim Duncan never got off the bench in the fourth after collecting 17 points and 13 rebounds in 30 minutes.

A sign that things had started to go bad for the Wizards came late in the second quarter.

With 3:21 left in the half and the Spurs building momentum, Hughes and the Spurs’ Bruce Bowen battled for a loose ball when referee Courtney Kirkland whistled Hughes for a foul.

Upset over the call, Hughes bowled the ball down court in the direction of no one in particular. That did not sit well with Kirkland’s partner Bill Spooner, who interpreted Hughes’ action as throwing the ball at Kirkland. Spooner then ejected Hughes.

“He threw the ball at my partner, so I ejected him,” Spooner clarified as he returned to the court for the second half.

Replays, however, seem to support Hughes.

“I didn’t,” Hughes said. “I think it was kind of an overreaction to a situation. I lost my head for a second, but I don’t think the ball getting rolled down the court was severe enough to be ejected from the ball game.”

Said Jordan: “We’re going to look at it and talk to the league tomorrow. I don’t want to say anything that could be wrong.”

But Superman, not Hughes, would have been needed to rescue the Wizards. The Spurs shot much better from the field (47.5 percent to 33.7), and they dominated the rebounding (53-40).

Gilbert Arenas led the Wizards with 14 points but shot just 4-for-19 from the floor.

Already without injured Jerry Stackhouse, the Wizards were forced to play without starting power forward Christian Laettner, who missed last night’s game with back spasms. In his place the Wizards began the game with former starter Brendan Haywood, who blocked five shots but scored only two points.

The Wizards got off to a decent start, outscoring San Antonio 26-17 in the first quarter. The Wizards were bolstered by four blocked shots.

That, however, marked the end of the Wizards’ highlights.

San Antonio opened the second quarter on an 18-4 run to transform what had been a nine-point Washington lead into 35-30 San Antonio advantage with a little more than five minutes to play in the half.

Led by Malik Rose’s 23 points and eight rebounds, San Antonio never trailed again.

And they did it without much help from Duncan.

Duncan had eight points and nine rebounds in the first half but much of the damage in the second quarter — which saw the Spurs outscore Washington 24-9 — was done by little-known reserve Jason Hart.

Hart was 4-for-4 from the field for eight points.

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