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Wizards still have pulse in East playoff race

3/16/2003

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Coach Doug Collins yelled at his team at
halftime, then he changed the defense.

Recovering from a stagnant first half against the worst team in
the division, the Washington Wizards rattled the Miami Heat with
seven third-quarter steals and got a badly needed 89-82 victory
Saturday night.

"We were upset with ourselves at halftime. We were mad. He
yelled at us a little bit,'' said Christian Laettner, who had eight
points, 12 rebounds and three steals. "We changed things up a
little, and the change made us more aggressive.''

Jerry Stackhouse, who arrived at the arena six hours before
tipoff for treatment on a swollen ankle, scored 37 points.
Stackhouse turned the ankle Friday night against Detroit, but he
showed no ill effects in making 11 of 22 shots and 14 of 15 free
throws.

Stackhouse is averaging 31 points since his outburst a week ago,
when he complained the offense wasn't designed to take advantage of
his attacking game.

"I was trying to be aggressive,'' Stackhouse said. "That's my
game, just slashing and taking the ball to the basket. I still
don't feel I go enough.''

Michael Jordan added 19 points for the Wizards, who need a
victory in nearly all of their few precious remaining home games to
keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They play 11 of
their final 16 on the road. The Wizards were in a tie for eighth
place with Milwaukee, which lost to the Los Angeles Lakers on
Saturday night. Before the game against Miami, Washington had lost
five of seven overall to fall into ninth place.

The game was tied 48-48 after a largely uninspiring first half,
and Collins took the blame for using the wrong defense. The
adjustments he made paid dividends: Jordan, Laettner and Brendan
Haywood had two steals apiece in the third quarter, and Haywood
blocked two shots.

The drawback was that Washington didn't take full advantage. The
Wizards converted the Heat's seven turnovers into just six points
and needed Bryon Russell's buzzer-beating jumper to take their
biggest lead, 70-63, heading into the fourth period.

Jordan completed the surge early in the fourth with a jumper and
three-point play off a driving layup to get the lead to 10, and the
Heat never got closer than seven the rest of the way.

In the end, it was another frustrating night for the Heat, who
have lost six of seven. Brian Grant had 16 points and 11 rebounds
for the Heat, and Travis Best also scored 16 points.

"We just have the same disease every single night,'' coach Pat
Riley said. "Somewhere in the third quarter we go from playing
very well, and then all of a sudden we start to play bad. We start
turning the ball over, and they're like mindless turnovers.

"I don't know if it's borne out of fatigue or just carelessness
or whatever, but we always go through a stretch where that gets us
going in the wrong direction.''

Grant sounded like a player who can't wait for the season to
end.

"I'm about to get numb,'' he said. "Early on, you go home and
you're pulling your hair out. Halfway through, you're kicking
stuff. Three quarters of the way through, you're smacking yourself
in the head. And now bringing it in strong, you just figure you
can't do no more.

"After the fact, you're kicking stuff. Going home, sleepless
nights. You just can't do it on the court. It's tough on everybody,
man.''

Neither team led by more than five points in the first half.
Jordan was a one-man show with 12 points in the first quarter,
while Stackhouse scored 14 in the second, including a 20-foot
jumper just before the buzzer that tied the game at halftime.

The Heat also divided their scoring load by the quarter. Grant
had 10 points in the first quarter, mostly on jump shots, while
Malik Allen had 10 in the second.

Game notes
Both teams lost the night before: the Wizards at Detroit
and the Heat at home to New Orleans. ... Collins said he's not yet
into scoreboard-watching, in part because he has trouble reading
the MCI Center scoreboard, which uses symbols such as "NOH'' for
the New Orleans Hornets. "I can't read their abbreviations,''
Collins said. "I had no idea what NOH was.''