Jordan, Wizards getting better

His 31 points push Hawks aside, 98-88

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

ATLANTA - Michael Jordan has been known to make history, then rewrite the script more than a few times. He did it again last night.

Just as he had done nearly seven years ago shortly after coming back from his first retirement with the Chicago Bulls, Jordan led the Washington Wizards to a 98-88 victory. And just as he did back then, Jordan went from looking ordinary in his first game back to looking more like his old self.

While he didn't have to make the game-winner this time, Jordan scored 31 points, (one less than he had against hawks in Atlanta in 1995) frustrating the Hawks and thrilling a record-crowd of 20,007 at Philips Arena. Jordan had help, getting 22 points from Richard Hamilton. Jason Terry led the Hawks with 23 while Shareef Abdur-Rahim added 17.

Trailing 83-82 after six straight points by the Hawks, the Wizards took back the lead with consecutive baskets by Popeye Jones and Hamilton with a little over four minutes left. Jordan then grabbed the rebound on a short miss by Abdur-Rahim, was fouled and made both free throws.

Theo Ratliff scored to cut Washington's lead to three, but Chris Whitney found Eton Thomas for a dunk with a little under three minutes left. Ratliff made a free throw, but the Hawks stole an inbounds pass and Thomas fouled Ratliff, who hit missed both free throws with 2 1/2 minutes left.

Trailing 55-51 early in the second half, the Wizards went on a 9-3 run to take the lead on a short jumper by Hamilton off a neat feed from Jordan. It seemed as if Jordan wanted to get his teammates more involved in the offense than they were in the first half, when he scored 19 points on 9-for-20 shooting.

Jordan went to the bench with a little under four minutes left in the third quarter, shortly after tying the score at 64. As they did in the first half, as well as in the season opener, the Wizards played well without Jordan, as Whitney (16 points) became the primary scorer.

The veteran point guard, who started last night after scoring 18 points off the bench against the Knicks, gave the Wizards a 66-64 with a short jumper and then a 69-66 lead with a three.

While the fourth quarter didn't start well for Jordan - he couldn't control a bad pass from Whitney - it got better in a hurry. With the score tied at 74, Jordan drove the right baseline and threw in a left-handed reverse layup. Atlanta briefly recaptured the lead when Toni Kukoc buried a three in the face of his former Bulls teammate.

Playing point guard, a double-teamed Jordan found Popeye Jones for a jump hook right before the 24-second buzzer sounded, then hit Hamilton for a short jumper in the lane. Matched up against unknown Chris Crawford, Jordan hit a high-arcing baseline jumper to extend Washington's lead to 82-77.

New Wizards coach Doug Collins proved prescient, saying before the game that Jordan's knee seemed to improve between Tuesday night's game in New York and Wednesday's practice here.

"He was much better yesterday, and he was very good today [at morning shoot-around]," Collins said. "I think he's going to be great tonight."

Jordan was a different player from the start, hitting his first shot on Washington's opening possession and five of his first seven. Even when he missed, the Wizards managed to control the rebound and get the ball to Jordan. Once he hit a mid-range jumper, the other time he threw down a vicious dunk.

He scored 11 points in the first six minutes before sitting down with a little under 3 1/2 minutes left in the first quarter. But as they did against the Knicks, the Wizards were able to build on their lead with Jordan on the bench.

As happened in New York as well, the Wizards seemed to lose their focus after the first quarter, and the Hawks went into the dressing room with a 53-49 lead. Jordan finished the half with 19 points - matching his total against the Knicks - while Jason Terry led Atlanta with 13.

NOTES: Collins said before the game that rookie forward Kwame Brown will be out until next week because of a sprained right ankle. Brown was injured in the fourth quarter of Tuesday's season-opening loss to the Knicks in New York. Collins said he expected Brown to return for Wednesday's game in Boston.

Brown, who is from Brunswick, Ga., had made plans for his mother and other family members to attend last night's game, but they wound up staying home. ...

The Wizards are already without rookie Brendan Haywood, who tore ligaments in his left thumb during the preseason. Haywood will be examined Tuesday to determine if surgery is necessary.

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