Jordan finishes off Bullets Bulls guard scores 18 in fourth for 103-99 win


LANDOVER -- For three quarters, Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan tried his best to shake the effects of a poor shooting night.

"I totally couldn't find my rhythm at all," Jordan said. "I played like I was shooting off the wrong leg all night. And suddenly, in the fourth quarter, I was able to do it."

And even President Clinton, watching from near courtside, had to appreciate the show Jordan put on in the fourth quarter, when he scored 18 of his 36 points to carry the Bulls to a 103-99 victory over the Washington Bullets last night before a sellout crowd at USAir Arena.

The Bullets were short-handed (Chris Webber missed the game with a strained back, and Harvey Grant was slowed by an injured right wrist), but they put up an admirable effort in their second tight game against the Bulls this season. All five starters scored in double figures, led by Juwan Howard (25 points, 10 rebounds) and Rod Strickland (21 points, nine assists).

But the Bullets lost their second straight game, and eighth in their past 10, and fell to 0-15 in games against teams currently in first or second place in their respective divisions.

They could blame this one on Jordan, who made seven of 10 shots in the fourth quarter, including two three-pointers. Jordan also did a nice defensive job down the stretch on Strickland, switching over to the Bullets' point guard with a little less than six minutes left and the Bulls leading by one point.

"Suddenly, I was able to do it," Jordan said. "And I think we needed it to a certain extent."

It was very much needed, as the Bulls watched their 11-point lead entering the fourth quarter shrink to an 86-85 advantage with 6: 32 left after Howard converted a three-point play.

Jordan then drove the baseline and responded with a dunk, and was fouled by Gheorghe Muresan. He hit the free throw, and Chicago's lead was 89-85.

Then Jordan hit a three-pointer. Then he faked out Strickland and hit a short jumper. From the time the Bullets got within a point, Jordan scored the next 15 points, and when he was done the Bulls' lead was 101-94 after his three-pointer with 1: 55 left.

"They run the same offense all the time and when he gets the ball early, that means he's going to go," said Bullets guard Calbert Cheaney, who spent part of the night defending Jordan. "In the fourth quarter he did that, and you have to be ready for it. You just play the best you can, and try to get the ball out of his hands."

Even after all those heroics, the Bullets fought back and were in the game in the final seconds as Strickland scored on a layup with nine seconds left to make it 101-99. But the Bullets, trying to foul, instead watched in dismay as Toni Kukoc caught a pass at half-court and drove the rest of the way for an uncontested layup.

"We wanted to score and foul, and we thought we had the foul," Bullets coach Bernie Bickerstaff said. "It just wasn't called."

Still, Bickerstaff was proud of his team's effort. The Bullets have lost two games to the Bulls by a total of five points. Webber practiced on Thursday, but said his back was too sore to play last night. Grant tried to play with his severely sprained right wrist but was able to give only seven minutes.

"To be real honest, with the complement of players we had, that's all that we could do," Bickerstaff said. "They just had great players who took over the game. But our guys didn't back down."

The early heroics came from Chicago forward Scottie Pippen, who scored 17 in the opening quarter and 20 in the first half. Pippen, who scored a career-high 47 earlier this week, finished with 28.

"He carried us, you have to give Scottie credit," Jordan said. "We have to ride him, and hopefully everyone can feed off his energy. We did a heck of a one-two combination through the game."

One-two because Dennis Rodman, recently back from his 11-game suspension, had a quiet night, finishing with 12 rebounds and four points.

Rodman did not complete the game without incident, however. In the second quarter Muresan nailed Rodman with a solid pick. That freed up Howard for an easy score and, as the players ran up the court, Rodman shoved Muresan. Referee Hue Hollins called a double technical on both players, sending the Bullets' bench into an uproar.

"You get those European players, and they play dumb," Rodman said. "I knew what he did, he knew what he did. Just don't do it to me. I'm coming at you, I don't care if you're 7-foot-9."

But even Rodman's antics couldn't upstage Jordan.

"He has an incredible energy level," Bulls coach Phil Jackson said of Jordan. "There is a point in the game where he is going to take over and destroy a team."

NOTES: Clinton, who sat 10 rows up at midcourt with Bullets owner Abe Pollin, became the first president to attend an NBA game since Jimmy Carter in 1979. Clinton visited both dressing rooms before the game, munched on a tub of popcorn throughout the first half and stayed until the final buzzer. The Bulls are 11-0 on Fridays this season.

Pub Date: 2/16/97

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