Hornets 99, Wizards 92

The Washington Wizards found out tonight that they weren't perfect.

Too many gaffes by the team's young players and big men and a strong fourth quarter by former Wizards guard Courtney Alexander gave Washington its first preseason loss, 99-92, to the New Orleans Hornets before 13,076 at Greensboro Coliseum.

Alexander finished with 21 points -- 11 in the fourth -- to give the Hornets a victory in their first and only trip back to North Carolina, which they vacated months ago when they moved from Charlotte to New Orleans. His big finish came after a relatively tough three periods, where he was prey to Wizards guard Jerry Stackhouse, who rung up a game-high 32 points.

"Of course I'm glad [New Orleans won]," said Alexander, whom Washington traded to New Orleans this summer for the No. 17 draft pick, which it used on Maryland guard Juan Dixon. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't."

Stackhouse scored 19 points in the third quarter, when he almost single-handedly atoned for Washington's lack of rebounding and execution in parts of the second and third periods. His big showing brought the Wizards to a tie at 73 entering the fourth quarter.

Guard Larry Hughes (14 points) and forward Kwame Brown (13 points) seemed to had done enough to propel the Wizards to another victory in the fourth quarter as Washington's lead grew to five. But a poor final third of the quarter caused Washington to lose for the first time in five exhibitions.

"We have to have more of a presence inside," Wizards Coach Doug Collins said. "That was their second-team front line that hammered us tonight. We've got to be much better on the front line and our finish to the game. We gave up too many easy baskets."

The Wizards' loss overshadowed a strong early showing by the quintet of players who are expected to comprise the opening-game starting lineup. For the first time this preseason, Washington Coach Doug Collins opened with center Brendan Haywood, forwards Brown and Bryon Russell, and Stackhouse and Hughes in the back court.

As a whole, Washington's starters were able to keep the Hornets out of their offensive flow initially by jamming up a lot of their offensive sets with aggressive on-and-off ball defense. The Wizards also kept them off-balance by feeding them a steady diet of Stackhouse, who sparked Washington to a 26-21 first-quarter lead.

"I was happy with it, other than rebounding," Collins said. "We did some good things. We got some fast breaks. Jerry made some great plays, Larry did."

Stackhouse, a two-time all-star, who seems to really be rounding into form, started out hitting shots from mid-range then did most of his damage inside, either on post-up layups or hard drives to the rim. Stackhouse finished the period with 10 points, four assists and a mental upper hand over Alexander, who prodded Stackhouse with a few early jump shots and some hotly refuted trash talk.

"It's just about getting more timing with the guys," Stackhouse said. "The offense is set up for me to do that. I'm just making the most of the opportunities to be in an offense like this. This is a guard's offense.''

Said Alexander: "Stack is a heck of a player. The referees gave him some calls I think were questionable but I have a lot of respect for him. He's a tough load."

Stackhouse didn't ease up after his quick start. His three-point play shortly after being re-inserted in the second quarter brought Washington to 40-40. Then, after New Orleans pulled to a five-point lead early in the third -- one point came on a made free throw after Stackhouse was called for a technical foul for arguing with referee Violet Palmer -- Stackhouse went on a scoring binge.

His final two points of the third period came on a spectacular layup at the buzzer after he one-handed a line-drive half-court pass from Tyronn Lue about five feet from the basket. The high-wire bucket tied the game at 73 and countered a long jumper by David Wesley (22 points) with roughly five seconds left in the quarter.

"I was feeling it a little bit," Stackhouse said. "It's great to get in a rhythm like that and I'm in a really good rhythm . . . I'm not only feeling it in games. I'm feeling it in practice too."

Wizards Notes: The Hornets were forced to fly in shortly before the game and fly back to New Orleans immediately afterward because they could not get hotel rooms due to an international furniture-buying expo just outside of the city. . . . Chris Whitney (right hip flexor injury) did not play in his third consecutive game. . . . Haywood, a Greensboro native, was honored with a key to the city during halftime. His Wizards' jersey was submitted into the Greensboro Hall of Fame.

Former Wizard Courtney Alexander, going up against Etan Thomas, came up big in 4th quarter as Washington suffered first preseason loss.