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Wizards Again Foul at the Line

Free Throw Woes Help Magic Sweep Home-and-Home: Magic 103, Wizards 97

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 30, 2005; Page E01

It was retro night at MCI Center last night, a fitting theme since the last two nights for the Washington Wizards have played out like an old, scratched-up 45 record, with the needle stuck on Orlando Magic point guard Steve Francis and free throws. Again the Wizards couldn't contain Francis in the final minute and struggled to hit a free throw in crunch time.

A night after missing 11 shots from the foul line, the Wizards missed 14 more last night -- including two from center Brendan Haywood that could have tied the game with 18 seconds left -- as the Wizards lost to the Magic, 103-97, before a sellout crowd. "Second game in a row, free throws cost us," Haywood said, shaking his head.

Gilbert Arenas leads the Wizards with 37 points but it is not enough as Washington sees its eight-game home winning streak snapped. (Preston Keres - The Washington Post)

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The Wizards (26-17) lost at home for the first time in nine games and failed to give Coach Eddie Jordan a fitting 50th birthday present. With the game tied at 97 in the final minute, Francis playfully wished Jordan a happy "54th birthday," then stomped all over Jordan's party.

Francis dribbled in the lane, spun and hit a tough, turnaround jumper over former Maryland teammate Juan Dixon to give the Magic (24-19) a 99-97 lead with 24 seconds left. "It felt like we was back at practice at Maryland," said Dixon, who played one season with Francis in college. "I was trying to make it hard for him."

Francis then hopped in the air and skipped to his bench after hitting what would prove to be the game-winning shot against the Wizards for the second consecutive night. The night before in Orlando, Francis missed his first 11 shots but canned an 17-foot jumper over Gilbert Arenas with 44 seconds left as the Magic won, 108-101. "Washington is one of the toughest teams in the East this year and we are right there trying to chase them to get to where they are," said Francis, who had 32 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists.

After Francis's bucket, Arenas, who had been staging a scoring duel with Francis all night, drove inside but had his shot rejected by Magic center Tony Battie. The ball rolled to Haywood, a 62 percent foul shooter, and Francis hacked him. Haywood stepped to the foul line, and his first shot barely hit the net. His second attempt banged off the back of the rim.

"The first one, I was so focused on the rim and the midst of shooting it, it just slipped out of my hand. The second one, I was so focused on my hand, I just missed it," Haywood said. "I was very disappointed. When you go out there, you don't just play for yourself, you play for your teammates, and I thought I let them down tonight. I wish I hit [the free throws] but I didn't. I just got to keep on keeping on."

Doug Christie (16 points) finished off the Wizards with four free throws. "They just took it to us. They were a better team than us over the past two games, that's obvious," Jordan said. "No excuses, they just gave us a good butt-kicking for two days."

Arenas had 37 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists and was a perfect 13 of 13 from the line a night after he missed five free throws in the final 2 minutes 6 seconds. Arenas scored at least 30 points for the sixth time in seven games, but the Wizards are just 4-3 in those games. "A good team came in here and played us tough. We are going to see a lot of that," Arenas said. "We've reached a certain level, and everybody is aware of that. We're going to get their best every night."

On a night that bobbleheads bearing his likeness were given to fans, Antawn Jamison scored 18 points, but he shot 6 of 21 and missed two shots in the final minute.

Magic forward Grant Hill scored 27 points, including nine points in the fourth quarter, as the lead changed hands five times over the final 2:41. He tied the game at 97 with two free throws with 56 seconds left.

"It was a well-contested game, but they made big plays when they had to and we didn't," Jordan said. "I thought we were right in there, but they sealed it."

The Wizards hadn't lost at home since Dec. 29, when the defending champion Detroit Pistons beat them 107-105 on a last-second jumper by guard Chauncey Billups. The Wizards' next opponent? The Pistons on Tuesday. The Wizards haven't lost three in a row this season. "We won't," Arenas said.

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