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  •   April? Could Have Fooled Wizards

    By Liz Clarke
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, April 2, 1998; Page E1

    Terry Davis meets Tim Thomas
    Philadelphia forward Tim Thomas charges into center Terry Davis during the 76ers' rout Wednesday. (AP Photo)
    On the NBA calendar, April is when everything matters, Washington Wizards forward Juwan Howard said at the close of the team's recent disappointing road trip. April was supposed to herald the time the Wizards, on the brink of playing their way out of an NBA playoff berth, turned matters around.

    Last night at MCI Center, April turned into a cruel joke for Wizards faithful when the listless team was routed, 112-91, by the Philadelphia 76ers before a crowd of 19,713 that showered boos down the stretch. The loss dumped the Wizards to a 36-37 mark, perpetuated the team's penchant for crumbling before weaker opponents and left Washington's prospects for the postseason exceedingly remote.

    The Wizards hit a miserable 40 percent of their shots to the 76ers' 51 percent. Philadelphia forward Derrick Coleman and point guard Allen Iverson contributed a game-high 30 points apiece. Coleman also pulled down 11 rebounds in his 36 minutes of work.

    Swingman Tracy Murray led the Wizards with 18 points, while the team's front court of Howard, forward Chris Webber and center Terry Davis combined to score just 32 points.

    The 21-point victory was the biggest road win for the 76ers this season, and evoked so much anger and disappointment from Wizards Coach Bernie Bickerstaff that he chose not to speak to the team afterward. But he didn't spare his feelings to reporters.

    "It was a pathetic performance," Bickerstaff said. "When it comes to urgency and what was on the line, it was a collective non-performance."

    It was a game Bickerstaff deemed essential, noting his players' habit of lapsing after road trips. And their inability to bring conviction to their play gnawed at him most. "To me, the difficulty is that you've got to fight," Bickerstaff said. "If you go down, you've got to go down battling, and that's the disappointing thing, because we didn't fight."

    With nine games remaining, the Wizards trail New Jersey by a full game and are battling with Orlando, which they host Sunday, in the chase for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff berth. Of the Wizards' remaining games, most are against teams with winning records, making winning games like last night's a must.

    Said Howard, who scored 10 points in the game's first 12 minutes and finished with 17: "We played terrible. We gave the game up."

    Howard said he didn't fault the crowd for leaving in droves and booing the team on the way out. "They have every right to react the way they did," Howard said. "We need to be booing ourselves. We're really down and upset with ourselves."

    Webber scored on a driving layup with 4 minutes 31 seconds remaining in the first period to put the Wizards ahead 14-13. It was the last time they led. With Webber hitting 1 of 4 shots in the period and Calbert Cheaney missing all four of his, the 76ers closed the period up 25-21.

    Coleman dominated the second quarter, scoring 12 of his 20 first-half points in a span of 4:18 as the 76ers took a 55-42 halftime lead. Iverson, the former Georgetown star, won the battle of point guards, proving more explosive as the game wore on. Wizards point guard Rod Strickland finished with 13 points and six assists, well off his season's average, and turned over the ball five times in his 35 minutes.

    But it was inside, where Coleman dominated Webber, that the game was won. The Wizards dug their hole early, playing as if alternately too tired or too indifferent to bother mounting a serious challenge. Webber, sporting a newly shaved head, struggled in the first half. He hit just 3 of 9 shots (for a total of six points) and pulled down three rebounds over 22 minutes. In nine minutes of playing time, the 76ers' Scott Williams had the same production. Webber's final tally: 13 points, on 5-of-15 shooting, and nine rebounds.

    Bickerstaff opened the third quarter with a flurry of substitutions, trying to reverse the scoring trend, giving Harvey Grant minutes, swapping Ledell Eackles for Cheaney and sending Darvin Ham into the mix. Ham promptly stripped the ball from 76ers center Theo Ratliff and drove the length of the court for a resounding dunk. It was one of the few Wizards highlights.

    The Wizards all but folded in the fourth quarter, getting outscored 32-26.

    "It's a very disappointing loss," Webber said. "I would sound like a broken record if I said how disappointing it was. We still have nine games left. A lot can happen in that time."

    Bickerstaff refused to lay blame. "This is not a finger-pointing thing," he said. "This is a collective effort."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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