Jordan scores 36 in first half, Bulls handle Bullets, 126-101

March 21, 1993|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- Embarrassed by having second-year guard LaBradford Smith burn him for 37 points the previous night in Chicago, Michael Jordan turned last night's rematch with Smith and the Washington Bullets at the Capital Centre into a personal vendetta.

Matching his most electrifying performances, the Bulls superstar hit his first eight shots on the way to scoring 36 points in the first half. He added 13 more in the third quarter and then retired for the night as the Bulls breezed to a 126-101 victory before a sellout crowd of 18,756.

It did not matter if Smith or the entire Bullets team made an effort to stop him. Jordan was on a mission, and nothing could get in his way.

"I think Michael felt that Smith had upstaged him in Chicago Friday night even though we won a tough game [104-99]," said Bulls coach Phil Jackson. "There was definitely vengeance on his mind. After Friday night, this was a wake-up call to come out and play with intensity for Michael and all the guys."

Jordan was clearly ready for this one. By the time he finished his spectacular opening barrage, the Bulls (45-20) enjoyed a 27-12 lead and the Bullets could draw no closer than 14 the rest of the way.

"We were just standing around watching him," said Bullets coach Wes Unseld. "I know no one was guarding him, and after the first quarter, it really didn't matter."

Jordan insisted it was "nothing personal" against Smith, and in fact, had tried to recruit the second-year guard for his alma mater, North Carolina, before Smith opted for Louisville.

"There was nothing derogatory said between us," he said. "I just wanted to redeem myself mentally and physically after what happened Friday night.

"I had only respect for what Smith did to me in Chicago. You're supposed to come at a guy aggressively, and that's what he did to me. I know I hit him hard accidentally a couple of times, and I apologized. It wasn't out of animosity."

There was little trash talking last night, with Smith only imploring Jordan to "cool off."

But Jordan was in a special zone, reserved for the game's elite.

"I got hot, and in a great rhythm," he said. "I really wanted to match Smith's 37 by halftime, but fell a point short."

His 36 points still represented a halftime record by a Bullets oppo

nent, besting by one Jordan's effort here, March 19, 1992.

He seemed on course for a 60-point night, but after sitting out the first five minutes of the last quarter, Jordan informed Jackson he "felt stiff" and was content to watch his playmates maintain a comfortable lead as the Bulls whipped the Bullets (18-45) for an 11th straight time.

Smith, who hardly played in the second half, finished his Jordan rematch with a modest 15 points. He regained his shooting touch in the third quarter, contributing seven quick points as the Bullets cut the margin to 76-62.

But the Bulls regrouped and used a 10-4 spurt to raise their advantage to 86-68. The Bullets were so intent on stopping Jordan, it left Scottie Pippen, B. J. Armstrong and Rodney McCray open on the perimeter.

Any chance the Bullets had of making a serious ran at the Bulls was nullified by four straight turnovers. Meanwhile, Chicago was cruising in front, 93-72, with the well-traveled Ed Nealy scoring at will underneath.

After three quarters, the Bulls led 99-77, with Jordan accounting for 47 points.

The Bullets made one last rally as Rex Chapman and Buck Johnson combined to slice the margin to 101-85 with nine minutes left. But in the next two minutes, the Bulls took advantage of turnovers and second shots to balloon the lead to 109-87.

The Bulls were getting in position to make their stretch drive toward a third straight NBA title.

"We're getting all our pieces together," said general manager Jerry Krause, taking a break in scouting the NCAA tournament to attend last night's game. "We've got [guard] John Paxson back and, in a week or so, we'll have [center] Bill Cartwright back, too.

"We're the same as last year except that we've had a lot of injuries. Not only Paxson and Cartwright, but [swingman] Rodney McCray is just getting himself together after missing a month with a knee injury."

In their absence, the Bulls have received strong performances from Armstrong at guard and Will Perdue at center, and the recent addition of former Bullets point guard Darrell Walker has added toughness to the defending champions.

But, of course, the focal point was still Jordan.

In a recent shooting slump (30-for-74), "His Airness" came out firing from the opening tap. He swished his first eight shots, including a three-pointer and a slam dunk, to help the Bulls to an early 21-12 lead.

Jordan finally missed, but the Bulls used Perdue's size inside to pad their lead to 27-12. Even with Jordan resting, Chicago used effective interior passing to free Nealy and Walker for layups and a 32-16 cushion.

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