- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2004

In a roller coaster of a game, the Washington Wizards transformed what looked like a certain loss to a lousy team into victory.

By outscoring the Phoenix Suns 36-24 during the fourth quarter, the Wizards overcame a 15-point deficit to gain a 105-100 win at MCI Center.

In a departure from recent games when they have had to rally to get back into contention, the Wizards built and then lost a 14-point lead in the first half.

“My halftime speech wasn’t good at all because they came out and took it to us,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “But our bench came back, and they really were the catalyst for us.

“But that’s who we are right now,” Jordan continued, adding he was not angry that the Wizards allowed the Suns a 19-2 run in the third quarter that put them ahead 68-55. “You just have to keep your composure as a coach and as players.”

And to the surprise of many, this is what the Wizards did in matching their season-high (36) for points in the fourth quarter.

Larry Hughes led the Wizards with 23 points. Most importantly, though, 13 came in the fourth.

Hughes was not the only player who came up big. Brendan Haywood came off the bench to score nine points, grab 13 rebounds, hand out a career-high four assists and block two shots. In the fourth, he scored seven points and grabbed seven rebounds with the game in the balance.

Once again the Wizards were better in the crucial stages when Steve Blake (13 points) and Juan Dixon (eight) were on the court. Dixon was 3-for-14 from the floor but scored five points in the fourth. Blake, 3-for-3 from behind the 3-point line, had two in the final period.

And though much of it came in the first half, Kwame Brown posted his third double-double in a row (19 points, 10 rebounds).

“Everybody just realized that we were letting a great opportunity slip away,” Haywood said. “We were up on them the whole first half, and we came out without any energy in the second half and they took it to us. We just realized that this was a game that we had to have and couldn’t let slip away.”

The balanced effort helped the Wizards improve their record to 14-31 despite matching their season high in turnovers (25) and making 28 of 47 free throws.

Joe Johnson led the Suns with a game-high 28 points and a game-high nine assists. Shawn Marion contributed 24 points but needed 25 shots to get them.

The Wizards built a double-figure first-half lead against a road-weary team that was playing its third game in four nights and looked as if it would have rather have been anywhere but in Washington.

But that lead was squandered in a third quarter that saw the Suns blindside the Wizards with a 19-2 run that took them from a 53-49 deficit to a 68-55 lead following Johnson’s two free throws at the 4:52 mark.

Down by 76-69 after three, the Wizards continued to slide in the fourth quarter. The Suns scored eight unanswered points to start the quarter, and a 10-2 run had Phoenix coasting with an 86-71 lead.

That got many of the 14,125 in attendance to their feet and booing. But the fair-weather MCI fans quickly changed when the Wizards went on a 15-0 tear that ended with the game tied 86-86 and 5:11 remaining.

After the Suns went ahead 91-90 on a basket by Marion, the Wizards took the lead for good on Haywood’s dunk with 2:12 left.

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