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Wizards Unable to Take It Away

Washington Goes 0 for February On the Road: Bulls 97, Wizards 90

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 26, 2005; Page D01

CHICAGO, Feb. 25 -- On the verge of another big comeback Friday night, the Washington Wizards had Chicago Bulls rookie guard Chris Duhon where they wanted him with about 30 seconds left. Duhon had picked up his dribble and Wizards guards Gilbert Arenas, Steve Blake and Jarvis Hayes smothered him, waving their arms frantically to cover up the passing lanes -- but they left one open.

Duhon threaded the ball to point guard Kirk Hinrich, who zipped a pass to a wide-open Antonio Davis for a two-handed dunk with 25 seconds left that helped hand the Wizards a 97-90 loss at United Center. The Wizards (31-23) scratched, clawed and fought their way back, whittling a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit to two with one minute left. But two defensive breakdowns contributed to the Wizards' sixth consecutive road loss.

Wizards forward Antawn Jamison (19 points, 7-of-23 shooting) looks for a way around the Bulls' Luol Deng during first-half action. (Brian Kersey -- AP)

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CHICAGO, Feb. 25 -- After practice at Hoops Gym, backup forward Etan Thomas rushed to an independent book store here, where he held a reading and book-signing for his new book of poetry, "More Than an Athlete." The book, which comes with a scored CD of Thomas's spoken word, debuted during All-Star Weekend in Denver.

"That's just me. I'm not going to be in a box. I have a lot of interests. Poetry is something that I'm passionate about," Thomas said. "Sometimes, when I go places, I try to find a little poetry place anyway. The thing that's different now is that it's already set up before I get there and I sign some books." . . .

Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said he wasn't fazed by the 11 trades made at the deadline. "I don't think one team got the best of something. It's just entertaining to read it, to see the moves," he said. "I'm just so concentrated on what we have to do and how to motivate and get better." . . .

Jordan said he expects to have Larry Hughes in uniform Sunday against the new-look Sacramento Kings. "I think that's the target date," he said. . . .

Bulls rookie Ben Gordon leads the league with 16 games in which he has scored at least 10 points in the fourth quarter. In those games, the Bulls are 10-6.

"It's something I'm happy about, but most of the time that means we're probably down and we're struggling to fight back," said Gordon, who is making a push for rookie of the year and sixth man of the year, averaging 14.5 points per game. "I don't like for my team to be in that situation. I'd rather us going into the fourth quarter with a lead."

Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire is second with 14 games in which he has scored in double figures in the final period. Point guard Gilbert Arenas is tied with five others with 13 such performances. . . .

Twenty-two teams -- including the Wizards -- passed on Arenas in the 2001 draft but the Bulls were the last team to overlook him. The Bulls selected Trenton Hassell No. 30, letting Arenas fall to Golden State at 31.

-- Michael Lee

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"Yes, we were a little sluggish tonight," Arenas said after scoring a game-high 36 points. "That takes a lot of energy. You get down and you use that extra energy to catch up."

"I don't want to use the excuse that we were tired down the stretch," forward Antawn Jamison said. "When you're that close to winning a game, you find a way to get the energy, deep down inside. Fatigue -- that wasn't the problem at all. The ball didn't bounce our way."

The Wizards trailed, 87-72, with 6 minutes 25 seconds left but the deficit was just 90-88 when Jamison (19 points, 10 rebounds) hit a three-pointer. Forward Michael Ruffin then fouled Bulls forward Tyson Chandler on the other end, but Chandler (nine rebounds, five blocks) hung in the air and hit a difficult shot off the backboard to give the Bulls a four-point lead.

Ruffin then was fouled on the other end, hitting 1 of 2 free throws, and the Wizards came close to a steal before Davis dunked to give the Bulls a 94-89 lead.

"I don't think there should've been that many people around him," Arenas said. "He picked the ball up. If we had played regular defense, nobody would've got open."

Instead, two players were open and the Wizards are now 9-10 without guard Larry Hughes, who is expected to return from his broken right thumb Sunday against the Sacramento Kings. "That's the plan," Hughes said. The Wizards will need a victory to avoid their first losing month of the season. They are 5-6 this month, with five of those losses coming on the road.

"We do a good job at home, but if you want to be successful, you have to do better on the road," Jamison said. The Wizards haven't won on the road since they beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 106-97, on Jan. 24.

The Wizards were trying to avoid going 0 for February on the road, but they came to wrong building: The Bulls (28-24) have won 11 of their past 12 in Chicago. Hinrich led the Bulls with five three-pointers and 26 points and rookie guard Ben Gordon came off the bench to score 20.

While the Wizards labored for almost every basket, the Bulls whipped passes around until they found the shot they wanted. It usually was an open look -- and they often made it. The Bulls finished shooting 11 of 25 from the three-point line, continuing what has been a troubling trend for the Wizards in their past four road games. The Bulls, Rockets, Hornets and Pistons shot a combined 37 of 85 (43.5 percent) from beyond the three-point line in the past four games.

"I think we're improving protecting the paint," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "To do that, you have to give up something."

The Wizards missed 16 of 19 three-point attempts, including Arenas's 0 for 7. The Bulls' second unit outscored the Wizards' bench 42-8, but in addition to not having Hughes, the Wizards were playing their second game without reserve guard Juan Dixon (right ankle injury).

"Juan can come off the bench and give you instant offense. This is a game he definitely would've made a difference," Jamison said.

"Larry, I'm just crossing my fingers because we really need him. Until then, we have a job at hand and we have to execute that job."

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