- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 30, 2004

PHOENIX — One night it’s turnovers, the next it’s free throw shooting.

The Washington Wizards fell to the Phoenix Suns 101-95 at America West Arena last night, making just 26 of 43 free throws and effectively taking away a shot at their second victory on this five-game road trip.

“I don’t know if we’ve been that bad,” said Larry Hughes, who missed five of his 17 free throws but still led the Wizards (23-51) with a game-high 32 points. “I haven’t been getting to the line as much as I want to. And then when I get there I can’t finish. It hurts. They are free throws.”

Hughes and Gilbert Arenas (30 points) combined for 62 of the Wizards’ 95 points, a situation that might have been different had Jerry Stackhouse made the trip from Sacramento to Phoenix.

According to a team spokesperson, Stackhouse was excused from last night’s game to attend to “personal matters.” The team will not practice today, and there was no definitive word whether Stackhouse would rejoin the team for tomorrow’s game with New Jersey.

Last night his presence was clearly missed.

“Tonight [Phoenix] didn’t care about the other guys on the floor,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “We just needed that third man outside of Gilbert and Larry to score the ball for us, and we didn’t have it.”

The Wizards also lost starting forward Kwame Brown to a sprained left ankle near the seven-minute mark of the third quarter. Brown will have the ankle X-rayed when the team returns to Washington today. It is not believed to be serious.

The Wizards managed to recover from a first half of offensive ineptitude that saw them make just 13 of 38 shots and fall behind by 15 points. In the second half — when Arenas scored 23 of the team’s 56 points — the Wizards closed what had been a 14-point deficit in the final quarter to 92-88 on a pair of free throws by Etan Thomas (eight points, eight rebounds) with 43.8 seconds to play.

But the Wizards’ philosophy of fouling the Suns (26-49) late backfired. Phoenix made 14 of 18 free throws in the fourth quarter, including nine of 10 in the final 40 seconds.

Interestingly enough, the Suns — perhaps because they play in the superior Western Conference — talked about playing down to the Wizards level. Phoenix is also headed to the lottery and lost to the Wizards when the teams met earlier this season.

“One of our biggest flaws is that we seem to play down to our competition,” said Suns forward Shawn Marion, who finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds. “We play well against the good teams, and we have played bad against the bad teams.”

Marion was one of five Suns to finish in double figures. Guard Joe Johnson had 18, and forward Amare Stoudmire had 15.

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