Jordan pumps in 41 points as Wizards top Suns, 112-102

Star `in a great rhythm'

Whitney now franchise's all-time 3-point leader

Pro Basketball

January 27, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - Watch out, basketball world. Michael Jordan is starting to feel a rhythm.

With two straight 40-point-plus performances, Jordan is in mid-career form and is carrying the Washington Wizards with him, as evidenced by last night's 112-102 victory over the Phoenix Suns at MCI Center.

Jordan torched the Suns for 41 points - two nights after busting the Cleveland Cavaliers for 40 - and declared that he is in sync and in his best form since coming back after three years of retirement.

"I'm getting a great rhythm, and I like the way the guys are really starting to set screens," said Jordan, who hit 17 of 30 shots for his fifth 40-point performance of the season, all at home. "My legs are starting to come back. I'm playing in a great rhythm right now."

In two losses last week - to the Philadelphia 76ers and Minnesota Timberwolves - Jordan became a glorified statue in the second half, choked off on one side of the floor by the defenses. As a result, he shot a combined 3-for-23 after halftime against the 76ers and Timberwolves.

However, in the past two games, the Wizards (21-20) have done a better job of getting Jordan open, as well as taking some of the offensive load off his shoulders.

"What we try to do is get him on the move, so they just can't load up on one side of the floor and build a wall," Washington coach Doug Collins said. "Michael is in such a rhythm now that when he's coming off those screens, catching and having people run at him, he can make things happen, as opposed to where he's catching and his back is turned and they can have three people lock and load on him."

Jordan, who also had seven assists, helped break open an ugly game in the second period, as the Wizards used a 9-3 run at the end of the quarter to take a 12-point lead. They were never seriously threatened in the second half.

Hubert Davis had 11 points and Chris Whitney had 15 points, including a first quarter three-pointer that made him the franchise's all-time leader in three-pointers made with 411.

"We couldn't stop Michael," Phoenix coach Scott Skiles said. "We played him like we were a little scared of him, which is not a good sign. Michael doesn't surprise me. Anybody would be foolish to be surprised by anything he does. It is interesting to me how in the last couple of weeks, he is really starting to put up more of these eye-popping numbers. He may, if possible, just be rounding into shape."

Indeed, Jordan, who was voted a starter for next month's All-Star Game, seems to feel he is getting that old feeling back.

"My legs and my move and my rhythm and my first step are starting to come back," Jordan said. "What really opens things up is my jump shot, too. Guys are really starting to come up and trying to make me drive, mainly because I'm starting to hit my jump shot. Before, they were giving me the jump shot and I couldn't have a rhythm, and I really didn't shoot the ball particularly well early. But I'm starting to shoot the ball well now, and the defense is closing out early, and I can use my first step a little bit."

Jordan's return to form has helped the Wizards stay in the playoff hunt, and he may be getting help soon. Washington's second offensive option, guard Richard Hamilton, could be closer to returning to the active roster after a one-month stay on the injured list because of a pulled right groin.

Hamilton said he could be ready to join the team in practice as early as tomorrow.

"I'm looking to see how it feels when I'm going against somebody," Hamilton said. "I've been doing all these shooting drills, but I really haven't tested it like I want to. Hopefully when I go against somebody, it will feel better."

Next for Wizards

Opponent: Detroit Pistons

Site: MCI Center, Washington

When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WTEM (980 AM)

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