Wizards defeat Blazers, inch closer to No. 8 spot


PORTLAND, Ore. - The Washington Wizards needed something, anything to jump-start their Eastern Conference playoff hopes, and the Rose Garden was the wrong place to find it, having dropped their past three games here, as part of an eight-game overall skid against the Portland Trail Blazers.

But the Wizards found the tonic to their usually erratic jump shooting, as they hit 51 percent from the field to notch perhaps their biggest win of the season, 95-91.

Point guard Tyronn Lue, inserted into the starting lineup at the last minute, had 21 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, to pace the Washington attack.

Michael Jordan scored 25, and Jerry Stackhouse notched 24 points, but Lue was the catalyst in the critical fourth quarter, hitting a tough off-balance leaner in the lane with 1:07 left to give Washington a five-point lead, as well as two free throws with less than 45 seconds remaining to ice the victory.

The win for Washington (33-37) not only ended a three-game losing streak, but the Wizards gained a full game on the Milwaukee Bucks in the battle for the eighth and final Eastern playoff spot, as the Bucks lost to the San Antonio Spurs last night.

The Wizards now trail Milwaukee by a half game with 12 games to play.

The Trail Blazers (44-26), who have lost four of their past six, are fighting to hold off the Minnesota Timberwolves for the fourth playoff spot and home-court advantage in the first postseason round, weren't crisp for most of the game.

They finally started to connect in the fourth quarter with three quick baskets in a 1:20 span that trimmed an 11-point Washington lead to five.

But the Blazers couldn't finish the task, no doubt harmed by missing six of 14 free throws in the final quarter, handing the Wizards their first road win since Feb. 25.

A man walked out onto the Rose Garden floor with 1.2 seconds left in the third quarter holding a sign saying, "No War." The protestor walked calmly across the floor to a chorus of boos and went limp when arena security caught him. The protestor was carried off the floor by three security men to the cheers of the crowd.

Collins shook up the starting lineup, bringing in Lue to start at point guard for Larry Hughes, to counter the quickness of Portland's Damon Stoudamire, who has been starting in the absence of Scottie Pippen, out for three weeks with a knee injury.

Collins also started Jahidi White at center for Brendan Haywood, who had started all but the season opener in the pivot. White, who was activated on Feb. 26 after being out all season recuperating from a knee ailment, got the start in the middle in only his seventh game back to provide bulk in the middle.

As it was, the Wizards didn't need the interior help in the first quarter, as they shot 55 percent from the field, with Jordan and Stackhouse combining for 19 points. Jordan was 5-for-6 from the field, while Stackhouse was 4-for-7. In addition, Washington forced five Portland turnovers in the quarter, as the high energy Trail Blazers seemed out of sync.

"This team made us look worse than any team we've played all year, back in Washington," said Collins of Portland's 98-79 win over the Wizards on Dec. 10 at MCI Center.

"The game was over in three minutes. They overwhelmed us with their athleticism and their thrust and their defensive pressure. What they do very, very well, when they contest a shot, they run out, especially Ruben Patterson and Bonzi Wells. These guys will really get down the floor, and what you have to do is take good shots, and you've got to get back on defense. They ran us off the court the last time we played them."

In the second quarter, the Wizards continued to shoot well, hitting 50 percent of their attempts. Each time it appeared the Blazers would make a run, Washington would stave it off with a basket. Portland reserve Zach Randolph scored eight points off the bench in the first 3:20 of the quarter, the last pulling the Blazers to within 30-27.

Washington led 47-39 at the half.

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