For change, Wizards set pace, 109-89

Six-game skid to Indiana emphatically ends

Collins: `As good win as we've had'

February 04, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- We may not know for a while if the Indiana Pacers and the rest of the nation got the message the Washington Wizards were trying to send with yesterday's 109-89 win at MCI Center, but it wasn't for lack of trying.

The Wizards, who had been beaten by the Pacers in two previous meeting this season, and dominated by them for years, matched the visitors' potency, speed and feistiness in one of Washington's best performances of the season, and before a national television audience to boot.

"Against a team that has spanked us, this is as good a win as we've had," said Washington coach Doug Collins. "This win was on national TV, and I think they got a chance to see that the Wizards aren't just Michael [Jordan], that there are other guys who can play and Michael just brings out the best in them. And that's what it's all about. A very, very gratifying win."

The Pacers had won the previous six against Washington (24-21), including 15 of the past 16, and 30 of the past 37 dating to 1994, when Jordan was attempting a baseball career.

In the recent history, Indiana (25-24) beat the Wizards twice in Indianapolis this season, including a 108-81 clubbing in late December, when Jordan scored a career-low six points.

Yesterday, however, Jordan led six Wizards in double figures with 23 points, 17 coming in the second half.

"We hadn't gotten out of the blocks well with this team and personally, it was my focus to try to get everybody involved in the first half," said Jordan, who also dished out a team-high six assists. "This is a team that knows me, so obviously they are going to try to eliminate me as much as possible."

In doing so, the Pacers opened the way for Richard Hamilton, in his first start since coming off the injured list Thursday, to pour in 21 points in 38 minutes.

"With everybody starting to play, and I'm coming back from injury, we can start to run," Hamilton said. "We don't have to play a half-court game the whole game. And it takes a lot of pressure off MJ. It doesn't have him getting tired out in the game. He can rest until the fourth quarter, and then carry us to the end."

The Wizards, who won their third straight and their fifth in the past six games, really didn't need Jordan's fourth-quarter heroics.

Collins went to a smaller lineup with Tyrone Nesby starting for Popeye Jones at power forward to counter Indiana's speed up front, and Washington led comfortably throughout, expanding the lead through the second half.

Nesby played brilliantly, with 10 points, 10 rebounds and a lot of energy.

"I just tried to give Popeye a little break. They had a different matchup. They had [Jonathan] Bender at the four [power forward] and he's a lot faster. They put me in there to hold him in. It was good," Nesby said. "Everybody that has come off the bench has played really good for this team and has been a plus for us. If you get the opportunity, you just have to go out there and play, and that is what we have been doing."

The Wizards, who guaranteed that they will reach the All-Star break with a winning record for the first time in five seasons, also won the composure game, refusing to retaliate against the Pacers' chippiness.

Indiana's Jalen Rose, who led all scorers with 27 points, including 22 in the second half when he shot 10-for-14 with two three-pointers, drew two silly technical fouls and an ejection that cost the Pacers any chance they had to mount a late comeback.

First, Rose taunted Hamilton after a third-quarter dunk, then got tangled with Jordan with 4:11 left in the game. Replays showed that Jordan first hit Rose with an elbow to free himself, then, after Jordan scored on a put-back, the two jawed with each other down the floor and were whistled for a double technical, which sent Rose to the showers early.

"He was probably tired of me being in his face," Rose said. "This was the third game we've played this year and I was tired of him trying to score on me every time he got the ball. I have to find a way to keep my composure. Obviously, in the heat of the battle you do and say things you may regret in the end. But that was the first time I have gotten a technical this season so I broke my streak with myself."

Said Jordan: "There are certain teams that feel they have to play you physical, that they have to do certain unnecessary things to try to even up the playing field. We've had some battles over the years with Indiana, and with Reggie [Miller] as well as Jalen. Some teams just play you that way, and because of the nature of the game, certain situations got out of hand. This is nothing new."

But, for the Wizards, beating Indiana certainly is.

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