Ailing Jordan hits 29 in win, but play at end scores a `10'

Block of Mercer shot helps shake Bulls in 89-83 Wizards victory

January 05, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - A clearly expectant crowd entered MCI Center last night hoping for something magical from Michael Jordan in his first game against the Chicago Bulls, but for 47 minutes, he gave them ordinary, or ordinary by Michael Jordan standards.

In the game's final minute, however, Jordan provided the crowd with what it was looking for, coming up with a spectacular defensive play to preserve an 89-83 Washington Wizards victory.

For the record, Jordan scored a game-high 29 points, two of which placed him over the 30,000-point mark for his storied career. But it was his anger-fueled block of a Ron Mercer layup attempt on the decisive Chicago possession that served as the evening's talking point.

"I can jump when I have to, especially when I get [annoyed]," said Jordan. "I was [annoyed]. I wasn't getting any calls in the second half, basically, and it was just one of those situations where anger just kind of gave me a little bit more energy to go up and get a block."

With about 15 seconds to play and the Wizards (17-14) leading 87-81, Mercer, who had 25 points - 17 in the second half - came down on a drive off a steal for a layup attempt, guarded by Hubert Davis.

However, Jordan emerged from the weak side and cleanly pinned Mercer's layup to the glass, then snatched the ball down with two hands, effectively choking off the comeback.

"That was an angry play," said Washington coach Doug Collins. "That's one of those adrenaline plays you get. It's like with the adrenal system where it goes fight or flight. He was flying. He was out on his feet."

Jordan, who has suffered from a sinus infection all week, tried to downplay expectations about the reunion with the Bulls, saying they were just another team on the schedule. But with the first meeting in his rear-view mirror, Jordan allowed after the game that this win was important.

"This is special in the sense that we're trying to claw our way out of the basement of losing teams," said Jordan, who relinquished his post as the Wizards' president of basketball operations to resume playing.

"If we have to step on other people to move up, then that's what we do. That's the importance of it more than anything. I like to think that we're moving in the right direction and Chicago may not be moving in the right direction and I don't want to be compared with them. I want to show some separation."

Jordan labored through the evening, visibly slowing in the second half, bothered as much by his respiratory problems as the defense of muscular forward Ron Artest, who broke Jordan's ribs during a summer pickup game.

Said Collins: "I think everybody thought he was laying in the weeds and not really sick. He was really sick. He was very congested. He was in the steam and sauna [before the game], trying to break that out, and he got tired. And when he did, we were fortunate. We were really fortunate."

The Bulls (6-25) trailed by as many as 26 points in the third quarter but seemed to feed off Jordan's fatigue, slowly but surely whittling the deficit to six in the final minutes, setting the stage for Jordan's defensive heroics.

Washington point guard Chris Whitney had 18 points, with three three-pointers, and Popeye Jones scored 10 and pulled down a team-high 13 rebounds.

Jordan's 30,000th career point, which added his name to a list that includes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Karl Malone, came as an anticlimax of sorts, on two free throws with 5:28 remaining in the second quarter that gave Washington a 45-31 lead.

"I was frustrated in the first half, because I didn't want him to get his 30,000th point against me," said Artest, who drew the foul on the play, and punched a rotating signage board on the next possession when he picked up another foul guarding Jordan.

"He got most of his points against [Larry] Bird and other guys like that, but his 30,000th happened on me."

Former New York Nets and Philadelphia 76ers great Julius Erving also scored more than 30,000 points in his professional career, but the NBA doesn't recognize the points Erving scored while in the ABA.

Next for Wizards

Opponent: Los Angeles Clippers

Site: MCI Center, Washington

When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.

TV/Radio: CSN/WTEM (980 AM)

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