- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2007

ATLANTA — The Washington Wizards played one half of basketball last night, and it cost them.

Facing the depleted but suddenly feisty Atlanta Hawks, the Wizards lost control in a miserable third quarter and fell 100-97 at Philips Arena.

After making 51.2 percent of their field goals in the first half, the Wizards, playing their second game in as many nights, shot just 16-for-44 from the field in the second half.

“It was definitely a tale of two halves,” forward Antawn Jamison said after seeing the Wizards’ three-game winning streak halted. “We just didn’t hit baskets. They got stops, and they got to the line.”

The Hawks (23-39) overcame an 11-point deficit to lead with 1:36 to play. The Wizards (34-26) closed with a flurry that made the final score more respectable.

Playing without starters Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams and occasional starter Speedy Claxton, the Hawks were substantially more efficient and tenacious than the Wizards in the second half as Atlanta ended a six-game losing streak.

The Hawks also cashed in at the free throw line after the break, making 36 of 42 attempts. The Wizards, meanwhile, were 19-for-20.

While the Wizards opted to shoot jump shots, the Hawks attacked the basket relentlessly. On the defensive end, they blocked 10 shots compared to five for Washington, and they forced the Wizards into an uncharacteristic 21 turnovers.

“We just didn’t play very well. We turned the ball over and couldn’t convert plays,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “Despite who they had and who they didn’t have, they are an NBA team, and they went out and took the game from us.”

The loss, coupled with Miami’s 103-70 rout of Chicago, saw the Wizards’ lead in the Southeast Division shrink to three games. Washington plays at Miami on Sunday.

Gilbert Arenas led the Wizards with 28 points, and Jamison added 22. Caron Butler recorded his 21st double-double of the season, finishing with 19 points and 11 rebounds. But the Hawks — who lost their first two meetings this season with the Wizards by a combined two points — had other players step up to offset the trio’s effort.

Before the game began it was announced that Atlanta’s leading scorer, Johnson (25.1 points), would not play because of a bruised calf suffered in the team’s loss to Miami on Monday night. The Hawks also were without Williams, a second-year forward who suffered a back injury when the Heat’s Shaquille O’Neal slammed him to the ground. Claxton was out with a sore left knee.

No problem.

In their absence, the Hawks got a season-high 27 points out of center Zaza Pachulia. Pachulia, who also pulled down 12 rebounds, was one of four Hawks to score in double figures. Journeyman guard Anthony Johnson added 19 points and reserve Salim Stoudamire 13.

Early on it looked as if the Wizards might cruise. They led by 11 points in the first half and were up 60-50 after Arenas made a 19-footer with about nine minutes to play in the third.

But then came the drought, After shooting 51.2 percent in the first half, the Wizards cooled off dramatically midway through the third quarter. They finished the period making just five of 19 from the floor and scoring only 15 points.

Anthony Johnson suddenly came to life, scoring nine of his 17 points in the quarter for Atlanta. The Hawks made 53.3 percent of their field goals and took a 71-67 lead at the start of the fourth. They never trailed again.

Notes — Wizards backup center Etan Thomas missed his second straight game for personal reasons. …

Forward/center Michael Ruffin also missed his sixth game in a row because of dizziness and headaches he experienced last week. Blood tests on Ruffin came back normal, and he’s expected to practice with the team tomorrow.

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