With the Washington Wizards' victory over the Houston Rockets all but certain late in the teams' game yesterday, there was still a groundswell of excitement at MCI Center.
Wizards reserve guard Laron Profit entered the game with 1 minute 48 seconds left and found himself matched against former University of Maryland teammate Steve Francis. Since Francis already had his share of highlights, much of the 14,191 on hand wanted to see Profit make some kind of play.
So when Profit made a 22-foot jump shot over Francis to end Washington's scoring in the 103-92 victory--the Wizards' fourth win in five games--a huge cheer erupted.
Francis tried to exact a little payback on the next possession. But Profit denied him any ground on the right side and left Francis no choice but to dump the ball to another former Terrapin, Walt Williams, who buried an 18-foot shot to end the game.
"It was a welcome-home party for Steve Francis," Profit said. "When I got in I was telling him, 'Don't get at me--I just got in the game. Let me warm up.' Once I scored on him, I could see in his eyes that he really wanted to score. He tried to wave out half the arena. He kept waving, waiting for Section 108 to move."
Francis, who finished with a team-high 21 points and a career-best six steals, said: "It was like something we've been doing ever since I met him. We've been playing against each other in the summertime, all the time. It's something we talked about when we played against each other [last week] in Houston. We said we were going to try and shake each other."
The Wizards' victory, which was sparked by 27 points and seven assists from guard Mitch Richmond, improved their record to 10-18 and gave them revenge against the team that ended their three-game winning streak this past Thursday in Houston. The Rockets fell to 9-19.
As for playing before his family, Maryland Coach Gary Williams and hundreds of local fans, Francis said: "I loved it. I enjoyed being in front of my family and friends."
Walt Williams also seemed to enjoy his return to the area, scoring 20 points.
However, after trailing 49-42 at halftime, the Rockets saw the Wizards begin the second half with an 8-0 run and get 13 third-quarter points from center Jahidi White.
"In the second quarter, they got back into the game without any real pressure from us," Wizards Coach Gar Heard said of the Rockets overcoming a 10-point deficit to take a brief lead. "We came out in the third and turned the pressure up."
White, who scored six of his points in the period on three rim-bending dunks, said part of his motivation was being on the bad end of a highlight-reel second-quarter dunk by Francis that gave Houston a 41-39 lead.
"He had the jam over me," said White, who finished with 15 points, 9 rebounds and a game-high 5 blocked shots. "He really jumped high. He got me. I just had to come back."
White's big third period allowed Washington to take an 80-66 lead into the final quarter. The Rockets got within 10 points before Richmond made a 20-foot jump shot, a layup and a free throw to give Washington a 100-86 lead with 1:48 to play.
"I ate a lot of turkey [Saturday], so I came in about 10 o'clock [yesterday morning] and ran it out of me," said Richmond, who helped limit Houston guard Cuttino Mobley to nine points. "Any time you eat all those yams and dressing, you're going to be sluggish. So I came in an hour early and got some shots up. My legs felt good and I felt comfortable."
The Wizards had blamed poor defense for their loss in Houston, but yesterday they held the Rockets to 39 percent shooting. The Rockets also hurt themselves by making just 16 of 28 free throws (57.1 percent).
Washington, meantime, made 50.6 percent of its shots and 22 of 25 free throws. Guard Rod Strickland matched White with 15 points, and forward Juwan Howard had 11 points.
Five of Washington's reserves also scored, with forward Aaron Williams leading the charge with nine points.
Two came on a tomahawk dunk over Matt Bullard early in the fourth quarter.
Said Washington forward Michael Smith, who had eight points, four rebounds and three steals: "Everybody hates to lose, and we had to get our stuff together. Now we've got the fundamentals down and everybody's playing as a team. Now we just have to keep it going."
Wizards Note: Rookie shooting guard Richard Hamilton (sprained right pinkie) likely will be activated from the injured list today, Heard said. Hamilton was kept on the injured list for a seventh game yesterday, mainly because the team has not practiced for the past two days and Heard was unsure if Hamilton was ready to play. Reggie Jordan continued to fill in for Hamilton as Richmond's main backup.