- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2003

ATLANTA — The four-game losing streak the Washington Wizards took into Atlanta last night prompted coach Eddie Jordan to do something he had never done before as a head coach.

After practice on Sunday, Jordan gathered his charges at the center of the MCI Center practice court and he and his players made a pact they would not return from Atlanta with a five-game losing streak.

And they kept that pact, thanks in large part to a 42-point, fourth-quarter surge that helped them earn a 106-97 win over the Hawks at Philips Arena.

The Wizards (4-6) played better basketball at crunch time and took advantage of their numerous trips to the foul line. They were 21 of 28 in the fourth period.

“He didn’t remind us about the pact, but if you listened to his talk at halftime you could see in his face and hear in his voice that he was really mad,” said Wizards point guard Gilbert Arenas whose team held just a two-point lead at the half. “We had to get this win. The pressure was building up after we lost four straight. So we had to come out and fight for this one.”

Arenas and backcourt mate Larry Hughes led the fight.

Hughes finished with season highs in points (26) and rebounds (nine), and Arenas finished with 23 points and seven assists. They managed to put up those number despite combining to shoot 13 for 32 from the floor. They made up for it by combining to hit 20 of 26 from the line.

Despite the play of the team’s two stars, it was Jordan’s faith in his reserves that turned the game around. The coach gave his bench players a chance when the starters weren’t getting it done and they responded.

With power forward Kwame Brown and center Brendan Haywood lifeless for most of the night — they combined to score six points on 2-for-9 shooting, Jordan gave extended minutes to reserves Etan Thomas, Juan Dixon and Jared Jeffries. Thomas (14 points) and Dixon (16 points) each scored a season high. Thomas also added 11 rebounds. Meanwhile, Jeffries played a solid all-around game and finished with seven points, four steals, three assists and two rebounds.

In fact, Thomas played the entire fourth quarter and Jeffries played all but one minute in the period. Dixon and Jeffries each scored nine points in the fourth.

“Etan, Jared, Juan, they were very trustworthy,” Jordan said. “They played hard and they played smart. It wasn’t pretty but they got things done on the floor. And just the force that they played with, getting rebounds and second effort. That was just a great effort from them.”

Dixon spoke for all three when he was asked how important it was to earn the confidence of his coach and be on the floor with the game in the balance.

“That’s all I want,” Dixon said. “That’s our job, to come off the bench if the starters aren’t playing well and give a spark, whether it’s rebounding, hitting the open shot or whatever. All I want is for coach to have confidence in me. And I’m sure Etan and Jared want the same thing. He showed confidence in us tonight, so hopefully we can continue to be a spark off the bench.”

Rookie forward Jarvis Hayes came up big for the Wizards as well. After missing eight of his first nine shots, Hayes settled down and finished with 14 points.

Jason Terry led the Hawks (3-8), losers of three of their last four games, with 25 points. Shareef Abdur-Rahim finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, and center Theo Ratliff collected six blocked shots and 11 rebounds.

In a game that saw 10 lead changes and 17 ties, Hayes’ 3-point basket with 7:31 left put the Wizards ahead for good 80-78. That shot ignited a 15-2 Washington run that put the Wizards ahead 92-80 with 3:31 left. It effectively took all the fight out of the Hawks.

Coming off a demoralizing rout by San Antonio, Jordan said it was imperative his team beat the Hawks.

“It was very important. We were in games that we thought we could have won,” he said. “Against San Antonio, we got blown out because they were a good team. That can really hurt your psyche if you come back and either don’t give a good effort or let one slip away that you had. So we closed it out and that’s exactly what we needed.”


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