Two plays in crunch time summed up the Washington Wizards' season-opening performance tonight.
First, with every basket needed during the game's final minutes, Michael Jordan had a breakaway dunk to get Washington within 10. He missed. In and out.
On the Wizards' next possession, Jerry Stackhouse fired an air ball from long range. The late-game futility by Washington's two main scoring threats was just a capsule of how things went through most of the Wizards' 74-68 loss before 20,165 at Air Canada Centre tonight.
Washington, which shot 30 percent, nearly tied the franchise low in points (66), but managed to improve its lot to the third-lowest scoring mark, thanks to Stackhouse's free throws with 10 seconds left. The Wizards tied the franchise low for field goals made (24).
"The one thing I never felt like is we'd be a team that would have trouble scoring," Wizards Coach Doug Collins said. "Offensively we were terrible."
Second-year power forward Kwame Brown was about the only Wizards' player to play well. Brown had 12 points, a career-high 18 rebounds and 5 blocked shots. He did much of his work against all-star Antonio Davis, who had 16 rebounds.
Other than Brown and rookie Jared Jeffries, who had four offensive rebounds, four points and a blocked shot in 16 minutes, Washington's front court struggled. Starters Christian Laettner and Bryon Russell combined for four points (2-of-10 shooting).
Stackhouse led Washington with 19 points and guard Larry Hughes had 12 points and a team-high four assists. Each had five rebounds, more than every other Wizard but Brown.
Michael Jordan scored eight points, all in the first half, in 25 minutes off the bench. He missed all six of his shots -- and two fourth-quarter free throws -- in 13 second-half minutes.
"I felt fine, I didn't favor my" surgically repaired right knee, Jordan said, regarding how he felt in his first regular season game action.
Regarding the rest of the game, he said, "For us to come out in the first game and expect everything to be clicking is far fetched."
The Wizards will play their home opener Thursday against Boston, which lost its season opener to the Chicago Bulls tonight.
Toronto small forward Morris Peterson led all scorers with 20 points. Shooting guard Vince Carter added 18.
Washington dug itself an early hole, shooting 25 percent in the first period. It only trailed 20-14 going into the second quarter but when the layups, tip-ins, leaners and jumpers didn't fall, players fell into the trap of trying to salvage things individually instead of working together.
"Early on when the [shots] didn't go down, we started to press a little bit," said Stackhouse, who was frustrated with the officiating, especially because he did not get to the free throw line until the fourth quarter.
"We had some post-ups, some nice opportunities but we just didn't make shots. We got down a little bit, then we got tight with plays and guys felt like they could do it, and we all went off on a little tangent as opposed to sticking to our offense and trusting what it does for us."
Washington pulled within five after a jumper by Stackhouse in the third quarter, but an 11-2 Raptors run erased that threat. The Wizards halted their surge by settling for -- and missing -- jump shots. They scored just nine points in the third quarter and were left in a 14-point hole, a deficit manageable for some teams but not for a revamped team showing few signs of cohesiveness.
"We were right there and we were never able to get over that hump," Brown said. "We've got to keep moving the basketball and taking it strong to the basket."
Washington, which held Toronto to 36 percent shooting, got within six points in the final 52 seconds but failed to close the gap. The Wizards had their chances throughout the period, but failed to capitalize on seven Toronto turnovers and made just 10 of 15 free throws.
"I hoped our defense would keep it low but offensively I felt like we could score more points," Jordan said. "Early on everyone was fumbling the ball. We had opportunities to take some good shots. It was one of those games that was pretty ugly on both sides."