Wizards make magic, win 1st

Jordan has 31, stands aside for mates, who finish off Hawks, 98-88

November 02, 2001|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - With less than four minutes left in last night's game against the Atlanta Hawks, Doug Collins pulled Michael Jordan aside. The new coach of the Washington Wizards had a simple message for the team's 38-year-old star. "Trust your teammates," Collins told Jordan.

Jordan did, and the result was a 98-88 victory, the first for he and Collins since their collaboration began. As much as Jordan brought the Wizards to the brink, it was the help he received that carried Washington to its first win of the season before a record crowd of 20,072 at Philips Arena.

Jordan finished with 31 points in his second official game since returning to the NBA after a three-year absence, but the 22 points by Richard Hamilton and the 16 by Chris Whitney - not to mention nine points and 13 rebounds by Popeye Jones - proved the biggest difference.

"With Michael at 38, if he has to win the game in the last four minutes every night, it will wear him out," Collins said.

Nothing seemed to wear Jordan out last night. Not the 40 minutes he was on the court or the parade of defenders Atlanta coach Lon Kruger threw at him, starting with point guard Emmanuel Davis and finishing with Chris Crawford, a 6-foot-9 forward.

"I was surprised Davis started on me," said Jordan, who scored 11 points in the first six minutes and 19 in the first half, matching his total from the season-opening loss to the Knicks. "As they got taller, I started using my quickness a little more."

After taking 20 shots in the first half, during which the Wizards (1-1) saw an early eight-point lead turn into a 53-49 deficit by halftime, Jordan began looking to pass out of the double teams and played more point guard than small forward. Mostly because of Hamilton and Whitney, the strategy worked.

Against his own wishes, Jordan came out of the game in the third quarter after tying the score at 64. Whitney immediately hit a jumper to give the Wizards the lead, and after Shareef Abdur-Rahim (17 points, 12 rebounds) tied it again, Whitney stepped up and hit a three.

"He's the coach," Jordan said of Collins' decision to rest him the last 3:54 of the third quarter. "He wanted to see the other guys survive without me."

The Wizards finished the quarter with a 74-72 lead. It was 76-74 after Jordan beat Crawford by driving the right baseline and scooping a shot in with his left hand, and eventually grew to 82-77 on another basket by Jordan. But it was after Abdur-Rahim gave the Hawks (0-2) an 83-82 lead that the new Jordanaires stepped up.

First it was Jones, throwing in a jump hook right before the 24-second clock expired. Then it was Hamilton's turn. Finally, with Washington hanging onto a 90-86 lead in the final minute, Whitney hit a wide-open, game-clinching three with 39 seconds left.

The bench went wild.

"Some guys can look at it as a lot of pressure playing with Mike," said Whitney, who had 18 points off the bench against the Knicks on Tuesday night before starting last night. "Some guys can relish the opportunities. Which I think everyone in this room does."

"You can do what you want to do, double him, but they're still going to get their shots off," said Hawks guard Jason Terry, who led Atlanta with 23 points. "If we're going to double him, he's going to get the ball to the right guy and they have to knock down shots. They did that."

The victory lifted the Wizards emotionally. They had started to question themselves and hear the whispers after a 2-6 preseason was followed by the 93-91 loss in New York. The win comes in time for Washington's home opener tomorrow night against Philadelphia at MCI Center.

"Starting where we were, I didn't want to go too far into the season without getting the first one," Collins said. "I didn't want them to get discouraged."

It also silenced some of the doubts about Jordan's ability to play big minutes, and while his 13-for-30 shooting was an improvement over his 7-for-21 against the Knicks, last night was a start. He also had six assists and six rebounds.

"I'm starting to dunk, starting to finish at the basket," he said.

More importantly, the Wizards finished just as well. Maybe even better.

NOTE: Collins said before the game that rookie forward Kwame Brown, who sprained his right ankle in the season opener, will likely be out until Wednesday's game in Boston.

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