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KNICKS ESCAPE AS WIZARDS FAIL AT HORN

The New York Knicks keep finding ways to play down to the level of their opponents. Of course, that's going to happen when both Patrick Ewing and Latrell Sprewell are struggling.

Larry Johnson picked up the slack by matching a season-high with 24 points, and Ewing benefited from a call and a no-call in the final 90 seconds as the Knicks broke a two-game losing streak with Thursday night's 89-86 victory over the Washington Wizards.

"LJ carried us definitely tonight," said Sprewell, who was 5 for 18 with four turnovers and is 9 for 34 over his last two games. "We've only played a couple of games where we've put teams away. We've let teams back in the game all this year really, so we have to do a better job of closing teams out."

For the second night in a row, the Wizards missed a three-pointer on the game's last shot. Mitch Richmond had one bounce in and out at the buzzer in Wednesday's 96-94 loss at Cleveland, and Chris Whitney struggled to get free of Charlie Ward before launching an air ball with 1.4 seconds left Thursday.

But what left the Wizards grumbling most were the two breaks they felt the officials gave Ewing late in the game. First, Ewing drew a foul on Jahidi White while losing the ball in the paint with the score 85-80 and 1:26 to go. Then, with 13 seconds left and the score 87-86, Ewing and Richmond bumped, causing Richmond to lose the ball while driving to the basket. No whistle blew.

"That should've been called. Mitch got tripped and they didn't call it," said Washington coach Gar Heard, who drew a technical protesting White's foul on Ewing. "I don't know what they were looking at, but Mitch should've been shooting two free throws to give us a chance to win the ballgame.

"In a situation where we fought back from five down with less than two minutes to go to win the ballgame, at least put it in the players' hands and let them decide the game. The whistle was blowing all night, so why didn't they blow it then?"

Richmond led the Wizards with 24 points. Ewing and Sprewell finished with 13 points apiece.

Pistons win in overtime

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- With the suspended Isaiah Rider banned from the building, his Atlanta Hawks lost a tough one on a buzzer-beating three-pointer in overtime by Detroit's Terry Mills.

Jerry Stackhouse scored 33 points, including a three-pointer that sent the game to overtime, and Grant Hill just missed a triple-double with 25 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds in Detroit's 106-105 victory.

"This is a really tough loss to take," said Dikembe Mutombo. "We had it won twice, and we let it get away both times. It's worse because we really came out and played as a team tonight. If we keep playing like this, we'll win some games."

Rider arrived at the Palace less than an hour before game time, and met with his teammates before leaving again to head home on a commercial flight.

Hawks general manager Pete Babcock said that he would discuss the situation with coach Lenny Wilkens later Thursday night, and with Rider today before deciding the eventual length of the suspension.

Around the rim

Tracy McGrady scored 24 points and Vince Carter had 22 as the duo put on a dunking display in the Raptors' 109-104 victory over the Mavericks. . . . Tim Duncan scored 32 points, leading the Spurs in scoring for the 23rd time this season, to spark a 98-88 win over the Grizzlies. . . . Tim Thomas sank two free throws with 13.6 seconds left to cap a game-ending 17-5 run that gave the Bucks a 91-90 victory over the Cavaliers. Sam Cassell led Milwaukee with 20 points. . . . Kevin Garnett had 22 points and 11 rebounds as the Timberwolves beat the Bulls, 94-76. Garnett shot 9 of 11 and recorded his 19th double-double of the season. . . . Stephon Marbury had 21 points and 13 assists and the Nets scored the last 10 points to win their ninth straight home game, 102-92 over the Magic. The win was the fourth in a row overall for the Nets and their 10th in the last 13 games. . . . Reggie Miller scored 30 points and fueled a 27-4 run with four three-pointers as the Pacers beat the Hornets, 109-99, in a matchup of the top two teams in the Central Division. . . . Kelvin Cato had 21 points and 11 rebounds, leading six Rockets in double figures in a 122-100 win over the Clippers. . . . Antoine Walker scored 26 points, Paul Pierce added 21 and the Celtics snapped an 11-game road losing streak with a 102-94 victory over the Nuggets.

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