Jordan puts up 41 in MCI Center debut as Wizard

Nets win

At 38, legend shows he still can be a force despite preseason loss

October 21, 2001|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - It was only four minutes, and it was only a preseason game against the New Jersey Nets, but it seemed to crystallize what all the hype has been about and why all the hope is revolving around Michael Jordan and the Washington Wizards this season.

It took those four minutes for Jordan to show why he was once, and still might be, the best player in the game. It came in the course of a 102-95 defeat to the Nets, but Jordan demonstrated that he remains a dominating force at age 38.

In 33 minutes, Jordan scored a game-high 41 points to go along with six rebounds and four assists. He was, simply, Jordanesque. He played with the swagger that defined him during his legendary 13-year career with the Chicago Bulls.

His tongue wagged.

His shots fell.

His teammates followed.

A sellout crowd of 20,674 at MCI Center, watching Jordan's home debut as a Wizard, were simply in a state of awe.

By the time he was finished, Jordan had twice led the Wizards back from large deficits, first from an 18-point deficit to two down in the third quarter and from a 15-point deficit to two down after coming back into the game in the fourth quarter.

But during his absence, first in the second quarter and again in the third, the Wizards showed how lost they are without Jordan on the court. As much as they in control with Jordan in the lineup they were out of control without him.

"It's been awhile since I got in that rhythm three years ago," Jordan said after hitting 15 of 24 shots, including his first dunk as a Wizard. "But the team has got to elevate with me. Execution is very important when I step out of the game."

Said new Wizards coach Doug Collins, "Obviously, Michael was magnificent. But this sort of reminds me of when I was with him early in his career in Chicago. We outscored them 82-57 with him on the court and they beat us 45-13 without him. We've got to make it easier for him."

During the third quarter, Jordan was at his electrifying best, hitting six straight shots and scoring 16 points in his team's 20-4 run that cut Washington's deficit to 63-61. The dunk came with a little over eight minutes left in the third quarter.

Jordan, who was obviously feeling more confident as the night progressed, blew by New Jersey's Donny Marshall for a one-handed baseline jam. He punctuated the move by pumping his fists as he came down. But after Jordan went out, the Nets stretched their lead to nine and eventually to 17.

"I was a little winded," said Jordan, who didn't look as tired as he did in his team's first three preseason games. "If this had been a regular-season game, I would have pushed myself a little more to finish the quarter. But it's only the exhibition season, and right now I don't want to overexert myself."

Jordan also wanted to see how his teammates would do with him on the bench. The problem last night was that Richard Hamilton, the team's leading scorer last season as well in the team's first three exhibitions, sat out with a bruised elbow.

Returning early in the fourth quarter with the Wizards behind 85-70, Jordan brought the Wizards back again. Though he didn't repeat the dominance of the third quarter - he actually missed a couple of shots and had one blocked - he helped cut the deficit to 95-93 with a little more than a minute left.

But that was as close as the Wizards would get. Third-year guard Derrick Dial and rookie guard Brandon Armstrong hit successive baskets. Armstrong's three with 36.1 seconds left gave the Nets a 100-93 lead. It didn't seem to matter. The hype had turned into hope for the Wizards and their fans.

They were not the only ones left impressed by Jordan's performance. Richard Jefferson, New Jersey's top draft choice, had hung in there early on with Jordan before finding out what so many other players had learned over the years. He eventually got into foul trouble.

"His game is different, but it just shows how mentally strong he can adjust his game to dominate," said Jefferson, the former Arizona star who once worked as a counselor at Jordan's summer camp. "He was doing what he normally does. But the most important thing is that we won the game."

That's something Jordan - and Collins - will remind the rest of the Wizards of when they go back to practice today.

NOTES: The Wizards start a grueling stretch of four preseason games in five days when they play the Philadelphia 76ers at Penn State's Jordan Center tomorrow night. The arena is not named for Michael, but for the school's former president, Bryce Jordan.

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