Wizards Enjoy Garden Party

Article excerpt

NEW YORK - With a little less than a minute left in the Washington Wizards' game against the New York Knicks yesterday, 19,763 spectators at Madison Square Garden - perhaps coming to grips with the fact the Wizards were about to end the Knicks' five-game winning streak - began booing lustily at what they must have thought was a halfhearted effort by their team.

"It's good to hear that and know it's not directed at you," said Wizards forward Juwan Howard, often the target of vicious fans at MCI Center.

This time, though, the Wizards deserved nothing but applause for their 95-83 victory over the defending Eastern Conference champs. When coach Gar Heard needed them to hustle, they did. When they needed to dive for loose balls, they did. And what they did better than anything else was something they hadn't done well all season - and something they probably shouldn't have been able to do well against the Knicks: shoot effectively.

Just five teams in the NBA shoot the ball worse than the Wizards' 43.1 pace. No team has broken 50 percent against the Knicks (15-10), but the Wizards came close at 49 percent (33 of 67). Had they not missed some baskets in garbage time - which began when center Jahidi White hit two free throws that put the Wizards ahead 91-80 with 1:36 left - they would have done it. New York made just 38 percent (29 of 76) from the floor.

After the game, though, both Heard and his players raved about the Wizards' defense - an element that had been suspect at times this season.

"That was the best we've played defensively all year," Heard said of the 8-17 Wizards, who have beaten both NBA finalists in the same week. "Everybody was in to the game. We made shots when we had to. But when we needed to shut them down, we came up with big stops, big steals, we did. Overall, it was our best team effort."

There were fine efforts everywhere for the Wizards. Mitch Richmond led the scorers with 19 points while shooting an efficient 9-for-15. And White, making the second start of his two-year career, was impressive with 15 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.

And even though foul trouble limited what he could do for much of the game, Howard - who picked up his fourth personal foul with just under two minutes left - did an excellent defensive job on Latrell Sprewell, who finished with an innocuous six points.

Heard was particularly happy with the way White played, especially considering that he was matched against fellow Georgetown alumnus and future Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing, who finished with 18 points and eight rebounds. With White in the lineup instead of Ike Austin, who was benched before Thursday's win over New Jersey, the Wizards are 2-0.

"He's learning every game, and he's not backing down," Heard said of White. "He's taking the plays that are there, and I think that his teammates have a lot of confidence in him. When he's open, they'll throw him the ball. You have to give him credit."

White, who often works out with Ewing at Georgetown during the summer, didn't expect to be nervous against him on the Garden floor, but he was. …