Washington Wizards players will admit that they have yet to play well for a full 48 minutes. But the two-minute, fourth-quarter stretch of high-octane energy and near-perfect execution on both ends tonight was enough to earn the Wizards a 101-93 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers before 14,616 at First Union Center.
The victory snapped a 14-game road losing streak and gave Washington its first consecutive wins since April 14-16 of last season. The Wizards (4-8) have not won three in a row since last February. It was the Wizards' third victory in four games, a major confidence boost to a team that had lost seven straight before starting this successful swing.
"Everybody buckled down and decided we're not going to lose this game tonight," Wizards Coach Gar Heard said.
Leading the charge was backup small forward Tracy Murray, who scored six of his team-high 19 points in the final period, and Washington's veteran back court of Rod Strickland and Mitch Richmond, who came up with game-turning plays on both ends of the court.
Strickland brought the Wizards to 91-90 with a high-banking circus layup. After Philadelphia center Theo Ratliff made a 10-foot jump shot, Washington regained the lead when Murray buried a 21-foot jump shot from the left wing with 1 minute 15 seconds left.
"I ran the play, the ball swung around and I was open," Murray said. "I just let it go and it went in."
The Wizards built their lead to five after four consecutive free throws by Ike Austin and Strickland, but the 76ers trimmed the margin to four after guard Eric Snow made the first of two foul shots. Forward George Lynch rebounded the miss but Austin, who had three blocks, swatted his layup attempt.
Strickland chased down the loose ball, heaved it upcourt, where Snow intercepted the ball and tried to pass it the length of the court. Richmond stole the pass and got the ball back to Strickland, who fed Murray for the game-sealing dunk.
The scrappy sequence showed the team's changed perspective, Heard said. Instead of playing not to lose, Washington did what it took to win.
"Overall, this is probably the best I played," Strickland said. "I think I have the legs under me and I can play the defense like [Heard] wants me to play. That's the big key."
The 76ers played without guard Allen Iverson, the NBA's leading scorer. Iverson suffered a broken bone in his right thumb and will be out at least three weeks. Without Iverson, the 76ers struggled offensively in the second half after shooting an incredible 63.9 percent in the first half--80 percent in the second quarter.
Strickland scored eight of his 10 points in the fourth quarter, hitting his first field goal in the game with 9:10 left. He also had 10 assists. Richmond scored 12 points and registered a game-high five steals.
Austin finished with 15 points and nine rebounds. Forward Michael Smith also came up big in the fourth quarter, scoring five consecutive points to keep the Wizards ahead early in the period. He also grabbed four of his eight rebounds in the final period.
Rookie Richard Hamilton made just 1 of 10 shots and scored four points. Forward Juwan Howard scored seven of his eight points in the first half. He finished with just one rebound.
Philadelphia shot 28.6 percent over the final two quarters, 25 percent (6 of 24) in the final period. Aaron McKie led the 76ers with 17 points. Larry Hughes, who started for Iverson, scored 10 of his 15 points in the first half. He only played five minutes in the fourth quarter and got just two shots.
"The game was the third quarter," 76ers Coach Larry Brown said. "We struggle and they get confidence. The first half we played well but I still thought we turned it over too much. Without Allen, you have to establish a presence and we didn't do that."
In the first half, centers Ratliff and Todd McCulloch scored at will from the interior, combining for 22 points on 8-of-9 shooting. In the second half, McCulloch failed to score and Ratliff had just four points.
"In the first half, we allowed too many easy baskets," Heard said. "In the second half, Michael Smith, Rod Strickland and a bunch of other guys really clamped down and played good defense."
Wizards Notes: Heard said Richmond is almost fully recovered from his sore left knee and could be inserted into the starting lineup soon. Although it appears Hamilton will start Washington's game Friday in Charlotte, Richmond could be back in the starting lineup Saturday at Miami.