WASHINGTON - The phrase "scorer's mentality" was seemingly invented for Washington Wizards guard Richard Hamilton, not necessarily because he takes an unconscionable number of shots, but because he thinks that every shot he takes will fall.
Last night, Hamilton's faith in his ability paid off handsomely for the Wizards during their 103-96 win over Detroit at MCI Center, as he dropped a career-high 40 points on the Pistons.
Hamilton hit 15 of 23 shots from the floor, as well as nine of 10 free throws, in a brilliant performance that marked his ascendance as the centerpiece of the new-look Washington offense, especially with the recent losses of Juwan Howard and Rod Strickland and expected imminent departure of Mitch Richmond.
"It's a role that I've been waiting for and one I've always wanted," said Hamilton, a second-year player from Connecticut. "Earlier in the year and throughout the season, I've had to wait. Playing with Juwan and Rod and Mitch has been excellent, but I got an opportunity to learn by watching. When I have an opportunity, I just have to take full advantage of it."
Hamilton's output was the most by a Washington player since Tracy Murray scored 50 against the Golden State Warriors on Feb. 9, 1998, and surpassed Hamilton's previous career high of 34 against the Philadelphia 76ers earlier this month.
"I just wanted to keep them off-balance," said Hamilton, who scored 24 in the first half. "I didn't want to just go for the jump shot or just for the drive. Coach [Leonard Hamilton] tells me all the time that I honestly think every shot is going to go in. That's how I feel."
The Wizards (16-48), who have won three of their past four, blew the game open in the second quarter with a 20-3 run over an eight-minute span, punctuated by 12 points from Hamilton.
"Our guys made a point to move the ball and get it to the open man. He had the hot hand," said Leonard Hamilton. "His teammates kept finding him and we took advantage of his hot hand."
In what was probably their best all-around game of the season, and certainly their best effort since the Feb. 22 trade that sent Howard and two others to Dallas for five Mavericks, the Wizards got a combined effort on nearly all fronts, shutting down most of the Detroit offense, save for Jerry Stackhouse, who scored 38.
Courtney Alexander and Hubert Davis, who came over from Dallas in the deal, each scored 15 points, and Christian Laettner, also a part of the Howard trade, had 11 points. Two Washington holdovers, center Jahidi White and forward Michael Smith, combined for 30 rebounds, just one fewer than the entire Detroit lineup.
"You have to give our players an awful lot of credit," said Leonard Hamilton. "We've had to shuffle our lineup and integrate new players into our system. Guys have had to learn a new system and other guys have been injured, but we've maintained a positive attitude in spite of that. You have to give these guys a thumbs-up."(Box score, 2d)