Like the Y2K problems that loomed but never caused any serious problems, the Golden State Warriors threatened to put a glitch in the Washington Wizards' first game of the new year. But the Wizards avoided a potentially humbling loss by playing well down the stretch and posting a 99-87 victory before an announced crowd of 11,107 at MCI Center.
Washington forced seven fourth-quarter turnovers and held Golden State scoreless over the final 2 minutes 50 seconds to break open a four-point game and end a two-game losing streak.
"It took us a half to get going but in the second half, especially the last six minutes of the fourth quarter, that's the way I picture us playing defense," Wizards Coach Gar Heard said. "We denied the ball, kept them from getting anything, and that's how we're going to have to play the rest of the year."
Six Wizards scored in double figures, and point guard Rod Strickland registered his 10th double-double (15 points, 10 assists) of the season. Back-court mate Mitch Richmond led Washington with 19 points, and the Wizards' reserves outscored the Warriors' 34-20.
Washington also outrebounded Golden State 27-16 in the second half (42-35 overall), an advantage Heard said was crucial to his team's ability to stave off any potential surges by the Warriors.
Golden State got within 91-87 after Antawn Jamison's layup with 2:50 left, but Richmond and forward Michael Smith (six points, four rebounds) combined to score eight unanswered points to finish off the Warriors.
"We have to play together, think together and win together," Richmond said. "That's the biggest reason for the successful team."
Jamison scored 17 of his game-high 21 points in the first half, but Wizards forward Juwan Howard (13 points, team-high eight rebounds) and Richmond combined to limit him to four second-half shots.
"I think you've got credit a lot of that to Juwan," Richmond said. "He made [Jamison] catch the ball farther out than what he expected. . . . We really turned it up on him and made other guys try to beat us."
The victory over Golden State (6-24), which lost its sixth straight--its third in a row under new coach Garry St. Jean--begins the most favorable week of Washington's schedule.
The Wizards face the Chicago Bulls, the NBA's worst team with just two victories, Wednesday in Chicago and Friday at MCI Center. Washington closes the week with a seemingly tough challenge Saturday in Milwaukee.
Though Heard said he would not look beyond the next game, he and his players know the upcoming docket boasts games they must win in order to get to their short-term goal of .500.
"We're going to try and make a strong run this month to put ourselves in position to do that," Heard said.
Though the Wizards occupy last place in the Atlantic Division, they have had a tendency to overlook foes they feel are inferior, a prime example being the Houston Rockets, who snapped Washington's three-game winning streak in December.
The main way to avoid the trappings of overconfidence?
"Look at our record," said Strickland, who had 11 points and five assists in the first half.
Added Richmond, who scored 12 second-half points: "It doesn't matter who we play. We beat Golden State; now we've got Chicago. We can't let up. . . . We've played some pretty good basketball, and we're still in last place."
The Wizards, losers of three of their last four games, could not shake the Warriors in the first half until Tracy Murray's off-balance three-pointer at the buzzer over a looming Donyell Marshall put the Wizards up 56-51.
The three-pointer was Murray's third of the half. Murray finished with 13 points in 12 minutes to lead the group of reserves that also got 11 points from rookie guard Richard Hamilton, who had seven in the second quarter.
"We came in and tried to keep the game close," said backup center Ike Austin, who had seven rebounds. "We played well, and then we got more aggressive in the second half."
Washington, which had been hurt in its previous two games by not stretching leads when the opportunities arose, turned a four-point advantage early in the third period into an 81-71 edge entering the fourth.
A 9-2 run, during which Richmond and Jahidi White each scored four points, put Washington up 73-62. The Wizards stretched their lead to 13 later in the quarter, but a three-pointer by Marshall (15 points) to end the period cut the lead to 10.
"Offensively, the past few games, we've been playing decent," Strickland said. "I don't think we're playing to our full potential. We have got to stay strong and play as a whole and win some games."