- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2004

For the second time in three games, the Washington Wizards fell behind early, rallied late and came up short.

The Wizards tantalized an announced crowd of 14,236 at MCI Center last night, nearly rallying from an 18-point deficit before falling to the Portland Trail Blazers 94-83.

Three days earlier Washington trailed Boston by 26 points before losing 100-89 on the road.

The Wizards were forced to play last night’s game without leading scorer Larry Hughes (19.0). Hughes, who missed the game because of tendinitis in his right knee, had been the only Wizards player to appear in every game this season.

With Hughes joining injured players Jerry Stackhouse and Gilbert Arenas as spectators, the Wizards (13-30) were forced to play their first game of the season without any of their first three offensive options.

“There’s no question I would be a better coach with Gilbert, Stack and Larry on the floor,” Eddie Jordan said jokingly. “But I thought that we played with emotion. I thought we cared about the game and giving the effort to win the game. We played with confidence. But they took some things away. You have to give them credit.”

Though they were short-handed, the Wizards almost earned their fourth victory in five outings because of the tenacious play of Juan Dixon.

Dixon made his first start of the season in place of Hughes and was a more than an adequate replacement. He hit for a career-high 30 points on 12-for-26 shooting and finished with six rebounds and four steals.

The guard out of Maryland almost single-handedly rallied Washington, scoring 18 of the Wizards’ 20 points in one crucial stretch that began in the third quarter and ended in the fourth. That was part of a 26-8 Washington run that pulled the Wizards within 83-80 with a little more than four minutes to play.

But Washington got no closer. The Blazers (18-24) ripped off a 9-1 run capped by Ruben Patterson’s dunk with 56.6 seconds left to close the door on the Wizards, who by then were spent.

“We dug ourselves a little hole,” Dixon said. “We had to play with a lot of energy and try to come up with some big stops in the second half, and we did. We just came up a little short.

“But you have to give them credit tonight. They made some big shots.”

They did indeed.

The Blazers looked nothing like a team that began the game with a league-low three road wins.

Portland made 65 percent of its field goals in the first half, and it was clear the Blazers were in a groove almost immediately. After missing its first shot from the floor, Portland responded by making its next 10.

The Blazers shot 52 percent from the floor for the game. They were more lethal from behind the 3-point line, connecting on 11 of 21 3s for their best long-distance shooting night of the season.

Damon Stoudamire led six Trail Blazers in double figures with 18 points. Stoudamire, who made six of eight 3s for all of his points, also handed out a game-high 11 assists.

The Blazers appeared to be anything but selfish on this night, too, finishing with 30 assists on their 38 baskets.

“From start to finish I thought we played a good game,” Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks said. “The focus was not on trying to score yourself.”

For the Wizards, Brendan Haywood came off the bench to score 12 points and grab five rebounds. The Wizards also got a career-high five assists (all of them in the first quarter) from Kwame Brown, who added 11 points and 10 rebounds.

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