WASHINGTON - The Washington Wizards gave coach Eddie Jordan all the effort he wanted down the stretch last night against the Portland Trail Blazers, enough to leave MCI Center with a win on most nights.
Unfortunately for Jordan and the Wizards, the Trail Blazers had built up enough of a cushion over three quarters to be able to weather the storm the Wizards and Juan Dixon threw at them in the fourth period, escaping with a 94-83 victory.
Dixon scored a career-high 30 points, getting 18 of his team's 20 points in a torrid second-half stretch as the Wizards (13-30) whittled an 18-point, first-half deficit to three in the fourth quarter before an announced crowd of 14,236 - generously calculated given the treacherous weather conditions.
Dixon's heroics, in his first start of the season, gave Washington a chance after Portland (18-24) torched the Wizards inside and out in the first half.
"Those guys made shots tonight, and big shots at the right times," Dixon said. "We had to play catch-up once again. We put forth a great effort in the second half, but we just came up short. We had the lead at three, but we missed a bucket here or there."
Dixon, who started because Larry Hughes missed his first game of the season to nurse recurring tendinitis in his right knee, hit a key three-pointer - Washington's first of the game - with 5:40 to go in the midst of a 16-9 run to get the Wizards back in the game.
Jordan said he had been concerned about giving Dixon a lot of playing time, given Portland's bigger perimeter players. The absence of Hughes, combined with continuing injuries to Gilbert Arenas (abdominal strain) and Jerry Stackhouse (knee), made the issue moot.
"We were concerned about the matchup with Juan and one of their big [shooting guards], maybe Darius Miles," Jordan said. "As it turned out, he [Dixon] was pretty good. He was really good scoring the ball, playing defense, playing with a lot of emotion and communicating with his teammates. That was a good sign."
After Dixon's three-pointers, Steve Blake, his former Maryland backcourt mate, hit a three from the left corner with 5:17 to go to narrow the gap to five points. Jarvis Hayes then sank a 20-footer from the left baseline at the 4:30 mark to make it 83-80.
However, that was the next-to-last basket the Wizards scored, as Portland finished with an 11-3 spurt, a fitting end to a game started by its missing the first shot, then hitting 10 straight.
"That [the beginning] was a problem," said Wizards forward Kwame Brown, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds. "We didn't start out the game the right way. We were a little out of sync in the beginning.
"We gave a great effort battling back. We just couldn't overcome the hump. They had guys come in and play well. We just have to go back to practicing hard and being ready."
Damon Stoudamire had 18 points - on six of Portland's season-high 11 three-pointers - and 11 assists to pace the Trail Blazers, who shot 52 percent from the field. Rasheed Wallace and Zach Randolph had 16 each for Portland.
"When he [Stoudamire] hit those threes, we dug ourselves a little hole, so we had to play with a lot of energy and try to get some stops in the second half," Dixon said. "We did, but we just came up a little short."
Next for Wizards
Opponent: Orlando Magic
Site: MCI Center, Washington
When: Tomorrow, 7 p.m.
TV/Radio: CN8/WTEM (980 AM)