Hamilton, Wizards drop 76ers

Washington captures home opener, 90-76

November 04, 2001|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Washington Wizards came to a potentially important revelation in last night's regular-season home opener against the Philadelphia 76ers, something they had not discovered in the month since Michael Jordan joined the team.

The Wizards can win without Jordan being his legendary self.

In a third-quarter comeback that turned into a fourth-quarter blowout, Jordan was satisfied to play decoy and passer, finding a red-hot Richard Hamilton time and time again for open jump shots. Hamilton's third-quarter shooting became contagious for the rest of the Wizards late in the game at MCI Center.

With Hamilton scoring 29 points and Jordan finishing with 20 points and nine assists, the result was a convincing 90-76 victory over the reigning Eastern Conference champions, who remain winless (0-3) while playing without league Most Valuable Player Allen Iverson, point guard Eric Snow and Aaron McKie.

"This was a game Philly wasn't 100 percent and because of that, this is a game we're supposed to win," said Jordan, who overcame a 7-for-21 shooting night to help his team in other ways. "This is kind of you dominate, you win and you move on."

The victory was the second straight for Washington (2-1), which goes back on the road tonight for the third time in four games in a 7 o'clock game against the Detroit Pistons in Auburn Hills, Mich. It will mark the first time the 38-year-old Jordan will play games on successive nights as a Wizard.

Asked about the number of minutes Jordan has played so far, including 38 last night, new Wizards coach Doug Collins said, "I told Michael before the game, we have to find a way to win this game and worry about Detroit tomorrow night."

It appeared for a while as if Philadelphia was going to ruin Jordan's home debut as well as Washington's first network television appearance in more than five years. With rookie point guard Speedy Claxton doing a good imitation of Iverson with 12 first-half points, the 76ers took a 43-35 lead at halftime.

"We knew we had struggled and we were only down eight points," said Hamilton, who had scored six points on 2-for-7 shooting. "If we played harder and get a little run going, we could win the game. I wanted to give us a little energy in the third quarter."

Hamilton gave the Wizards something even more valuable - somebody other than Jordan to carry the offense. With his team trailing 48-35 early in the third quarter, Hamilton scored 11 points in 13-0 run for the Wizards.

Then, after Jordan went out for a rest, Washington increased its lead to 64-54 near the end of the quarter. With the Wizards ahead 66-58 early in the fourth quarter, Jordan's return sparked a 14-0 run that broke open the game.

"Last year when I got hot, my teammates fed off me," said Hamilton, who scored 15 points in the third quarter. "This year, with Michael here, I'm feeding off him."

Hamilton wasn't the only Wizard to be fed by Jordan last night.

After hearing some angry words from Jordan early in the game - as well as some boos from a sellout crowd of 20,674 - veteran forward Christian Laettner finally awoke from an early-season slumber and finished with nine points and eight rebounds.

Conversely, the Wizards also became more stingy on defense in the second half for the second game in a row. After limiting the Hawks to 35 points in the second half Thursday night in Atlanta - turning a four-point deficit into a 10-point victory - Washington held the 76ers to 33 in the second half.

"We didn't have much offense, but I thought they had a lot to do with it," said 76ers coach Larry Brown. "Popeye [Jones] and Christian were great. They defended and got physical with out. We made jump shots to get the lead, but I knew that wasn't going to win the game."

Asked what a different team the Wizards have become with Jordan, Brown said, "Great players make everybody better, and I think he does that."

He certainly did that last night.

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