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Ailing Wizards Collapse And Fall

Winning Streak Ends at Four As Pacers Rally: Pacers 79, Wizards 76

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 4, 2005; Page D01

Washington Wizards reserve Damone Brown was in the National Basketball Developmental League three weeks ago, but he was the player taking the final shot to force overtime for a team fighting for playoff positioning yesterday afternoon at MCI Center. Brown, playing on his second 10-day contract, missed a fall-away 28-foot heave at the buzzer -- and that arguably wasn't the most bizarre sight during a 79-76 loss to the Indiana Pacers.

In a game that played out like a cruel practical joke, the Wizards (41-31) blew a 13-point second-half lead and an eight-point lead in the final 5 minutes 27 seconds. They scored a season-low 29 first-half points, center Etan Thomas lost part of his thumbnail going for a rebound in the third quarter, guard Larry Hughes took 16 shots despite playing with a sprained left elbow, and, after a productive 30 minutes, forward Kwame Brown curiously sat for most of the final period.

Anthony Johnson scrambles for the ball against Wizards' Gilbert Arenas, left, and Jared Jeffries, helping the Pacers overcome a 13-point deficit. (Nick Wass -- AP)

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"It was one of those games," Thomas said, shaking his head. "Things weren't going right for us. I don't know what we can attribute it to."

The loss ended the Wizards' four-game winning streak and dropped them into a tie with Chicago for fourth place in the Eastern Conference with 10 games remaining.

"It's getting down to the wire. Nobody said it was going to be easy," point guard Gilbert Arenas said after scoring a game-high 22 points on 8-of-18 shooting. Arenas had scored a total of 76 points in the first two games against the Pacers, but they cut off his driving lanes, double-teamed him on pick-and-rolls and forced him into difficult looks. "They weren't going to let me get nothing," Arenas said.

Although Hughes was unable to fully extend his arm after injuring his elbow two nights before in Orlando, he played 34 minutes. "He was really hurting," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "Even though he was playing on one arm, I thought he helped us."

Hughes finished with 12 points, 8 rebounds and 2 steals -- and missed 13 shots. "It's sore," Hughes said of his elbow. "I was prepared to play through the pain. I wanted to play better."

With Arenas and Hughes unable to get going offensively, Kwame Brown had 12 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks through three quarters but didn't get on the court in the fourth quarter until the final 33 seconds -- when the Wizards had already blown the game. "It was just a matter of fact that I thought we were playing okay, and we had the lead," Jordan said. "When [the Pacers] went small, I decided to match up."

After making 11 of 41 shots in the first half, the Wizards scored 30 points on 10-of-16 shooting in the third quarter. Arenas and Thomas got friendly rolls on jumpers and Jordan joked toward his bench, "That's a soft rim over there." The Wizards kept getting the bounces until Thomas (six points, six rebounds) went for a rebound and the ball bent back his left thumbnail with about three minutes left in the third period. Thomas's absence was brief; he returned with the thumb wrapped.

The Wizards pushed the lead to 59-46 when Laron Profit made a driving layup with 1:32 left in the third quarter, but when Thomas sat, the Pacers scored the final seven points of the period. Guard Juan Dixon hit two free throws to give the Wizards a 69-61 lead before Thomas reentered the game, but he wasn't nearly as aggressive, going scoreless with no rebounds, one foul and one turnover in five minutes. "I couldn't really put too much pressure on it," Thomas said of his thumb, "but it'll be all right. I think the worst of it is over. That's what I'm hoping for."

With Kwame Brown sitting, the Pacers went on a 16-2 run over the next four minutes, taking a 77-71 lead when Anthony Johnson made two free throws. Johnson scored nine of his 15 points in the final period. Brown was asked if he thought he would get back in as the Pacers made a run. "I did," Brown said. "I thought we could've controlled the paint a little better. They went small, so I guess coach made the decision to go small, also."

With 3.6 seconds left, Jordan drew up the final play, one in which Arenas would inbound to Damone Brown, who was to either hand off to Arenas or look for Dixon open in the corner. But the Pacers left Brown wide open and instead he opted for the three-pointer. "I looked at all the options and I was open, so I took it," said Brown, who made his only other three-point field goal attempt of the game. "The shot felt good. I knew there wasn't a lot of time."

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