The one thing the Washington Wizards have proven this season is that they can talk a good game.
After proclaiming they could not take the lowly Chicago Bulls lightly, saying they were motivated to not be Chicago's third victim this season, preaching the need to post a win to move from the cellar of the Atlantic Division, the Wizards tonight played as if they owed the Bulls a big favor--and set a franchise low for points in the process.
Washington embarrassed itself with a 77-66 loss at United Center before 21,869 jubilant fans, some of whom left the arena questioning who really was the NBA's worst team. Before its victory over Washington, Chicago had won just two games--by a total of three points.
The Bulls (3-26), losers of 11 straight entering the game, must be thrilled knowing they've got Washington on their platter again Friday at MCI Center.
"It was a total meltdown from the get-go," Wizards Coach Gar Heard said. "We just didn't come to play. We have to realize that any team in the league can beat us. We can't turn it on and off."
The Wizards' starters scored just 26 points--nine in the second half--on 10-of-44 shooting--to eclipse the franchise low of 69 points scored against Houston in 1993. Washington also flirted with the league's lowest scoring output of the season (63), registered Monday by Chicago in a loss to Portland. The Wizards shot an anemic 28.6 percent and were outrebounded 56-46.
"We didn't go out and play 100 percent, and it showed," said starting center Jahidi White, who missed his only shot. "Evidently, we did take them lightly."
Forward Juwan Howard was the only Wizards starter to score in double figures (12 points). Point guard Rod Strickland missed all nine of his shots. Guard Mitch Richmond (nine points) was 4 of 16 from the field, and forward Michael Smith and center White combined to shoot 1 of 4, with Smith getting his lone field goal on a dunk that brought the Wizards to 66-56 early in the fourth quarter.
The Wizards, behind Tracy Murray's five points, used an 11-0 run to start the fourth quarter to pull to 66-63. But Washington, which trailed by 19 in the third, missed its next 10 shots over a span of more than six minutes and turned over the ball four times, allowing Chicago to score seven straight points before Howard hit a short jump shot to bring Washington to 73-65 with 1 minute 41 seconds left.
"Every time we got close we came out and took a quick shot," Heard said. "We got in striking distance and took quick threes. Everyone wanted to be the hero."
Swingman Toni Kukoc, who played for the first time after missing 24 games with back spasms, led the Bulls with 18 points (11 rebounds). Rookie forward Elton Brand had a game-high 16 rebounds and 16 points. Rookie guard Ron Artest also added 16 points. Center Dickey Simpkins grabbed 10 rebounds.
"Relieved," Bulls Coach Tim Floyd said about his team's victory. "I used that word to describe this win."
Embarrassed was the word Washington used to describe its effort in defeat.
The Wizards allowed Chicago to jump to a 16-point first-quarter lead--until the third quarter its biggest advantage of the season--burying themselves in doubt while boosting the Bulls' confidence.
"We didn't want to come out like that," Richmond said. "We thought we could come in here and win and get it done, but we didn't. This is a tough one. This hurts our pride."
Washington got to 36-34 in the second period after guard Richard Hamilton (seven points) scored on a driving layup with 4:46 left in the half. Howard's layup with 44 seconds left in the period was the next time the Wizards scored. They went into halftime down 50-36.
If not for Murray's 18 points--eight of which came at the outset of the second quarter to bring the Wizards to 31-28--Washington would have been even more of a punch line for Chicago's win-starved fans.
"We made it tough for Washington to score, and we kept the lead pretty safe," Kukoc said. "Overall, I thought we had good control of the game."
Said Strickland: "This was bad."