Mavericks 92, Wizards 86
-- It looked like this was going to be the game in which the Washington Wizards finally knocked off an NBA Goliath. But after keeping within an eyelash of the Dallas Mavericks, owners of the best record in the league, for the majority of the game, the Wizards hit a five-minute scoring drought at the worst time possible -- the final five minutes.
The cold spell, in which the Wizards missed five shots and turned over the ball three times, allowed Dallas to pull away to a 92-86 victory at American Airlines Arena tonight before a season's-best crowd of 20,119.
"It's been our history all season; we play hard enough to win, we just don't play with any efficiency at the end," Wizards Coach Doug Collins said.
The Wizards' loss tonight was similar to their 92-81 loss Saturday at San Antonio.
"That's a discouraging thing," Collins said, "because our guys fought to the finish in San Antonio and we were up two late and couldn't close it out. Tonight, we were down one, got defensive stops but couldn't score. We've got to be more efficient because our margin of error is so slim. We've got to give ourselves a chance."
Washington fought back from four down to tie, at 72, on a fast-break layup by Larry Hughes, who had 24 points and six rebounds. The Wizards never led, getting as close as 80-79 on a three-pointer by Jerry Stackhouse (team-high 28 points, season-high 10 rebounds).
The Wizards failed to score over the next five minutes, as Christian Laettner, who otherwise had a solid game, turned over the ball twice, Michael Jordan once, and four Wizards players missed five shots. Washington actually played solid enough defense to stay close, but the inability to score until Laettner's jump shot with just more than a minute left, caused it to fall to 12-15. Dallas improved to 23-4.
"We were right there and that stretch we had maybe three or four turnovers and three or four missed shots and that was it right there," Laettner (eight points, six rebounds) said. "I missed a shot, had a turnover, we missed a few other shots and that was it. You have to take advantage of every possession you have and we had a few non-possessions because of turnovers and quick shots."
Dirk Nowitzki had game highs in points (30) and rebounds (17) and guard Steve Nash added 16 points for Dallas. Jordan had 13 points and seven rebounds for Washington.
The Wizards were outrebounded 54-40, including 15-6 on the offensive glass. Dallas had 12 of those offensive rebounds in the second half, turning them into 12 points. The Mavs were able to dominate inside over most of the final two quarters because Collins went to a small lineup for most of the final 18 minutes.
Laettner was the only low-post player on the court in the fourth quarter as Washington went with four guards to attack the Mavericks' zone and man-to-man defenses. The strategy worked as back-to-back three-pointers by Hughes and Tyronn Lue allowed the Wizards to tie it at 65.
Washington never trailed by more than five in the fourth quarter until hitting the offensive skid midway through the period. Some players said they got confused in that span because they were playing out of position. However, it came down to execution, as the four-guard lineup was working well until the game got tight.
"We found the holes in the defense and their zone for the most part and late in the game we didn't," Stackhouse said. "We had guys who hadn't played certain positions before. Not to make excuses but you've got four guards on the floor, and now we've got guys floating. Earlier we were floating and hitting some shots but late in the game they were matching up to us a little better and we were floating, getting late in the shot clock."
Said Jordan: "That's frustrating in terms of playing smart. We felt like we had them right where we wanted. We were moving the ball, playing solid defense. Our defense did great. Our offense, we took quick shots down the stretch and we didn't make their defense work. If you're going to beat a team like this you've got to make their defense work so they don't have as much energy on the offensive end. We had them set up for that and didn't execute."
Wizards Note: Rookie forward Jared Jeffries had his injured right knee examined by a local physician today but the severity was not fully determined because Jeffries said his knee was too tender to fully evaluate. Jeffries, who needs crutches to walk, is scheduled to have an MRI exam in Washington Tuesday. He was not in uniform for tonight's game with Dallas and is questionable for Thursday's home game against the Detroit Pistons.
"It doesn't look good," Collins said. "We're holding our breath that it's not serious. Right now we're pretty concerned."
Washington's other first-round draft pick, Juan Dixon, remains on the injured list with a left elbow strain.