King for a day: Wizards knock off Sacramento

Unheralded Jones helps stop NBA's leading team, 108-101

February 08, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Michael Jordan said the other day that his Washington Wizards teammate Popeye Jones deserved to be heading to Philadelphia for Sunday's NBA All-Star Game as much as he did.

Given that Jones is usually a third or fourth offensive option at best, Jordan's declaration may have seemed like hyperbole, but the veteran power forward played like an All-Star physically and mentally last night, helping the Wizards to a 108-101 win over the Sacramento Kings at MCI Center.

Jordan (25 points) and Richard Hamilton (33 points) took care of the Wizards' scoring load, but Jones' 18 points, 15 rebounds, defense against Sacramento's Chris Webber and heady play were vital in helping the Wizards (26-21) win their fifth straight and the sixth in their past seven games, this one against the team with the NBA's best record.

"This was a good win," Jones said. "We wanted to come out and have a good showing. Sacramento's a very good team and with all due respect to them, we caught them on a very good night, when they may have been a little tired. But we played excellent. Everybody came ready to play, knowing that we have three days to rest, and we were able to do that."

Jones was particularly instrumental in the third quarter, in which the Wizards responded to a 7-0 Kings run with a 28-9 burst to break the game open.

"He [Jones] did an excellent job," said Hamilton, who shot 15-for-27 in his best game since returning to the lineup last week from a groin pull. "He did what it takes for us to win. It was a great team effort. We fed off each other."

Jones, the principal defender on Webber, drew his fourth foul with 7:40 to go in the third quarter. Webber scored 21 points but shot only 9-for-21, settling mostly for jump shots.

Washington coach Doug Collins gambled on leaving Jones in the game, and the eight-year veteran responded, staying in the entire second half and not getting his fifth foul until there were three minutes left in the game.

"Doug has confidence in me," Jones said. "He knows I'm a smart player. He told me he had to go with me, to play smart and just give Webber jump shots and keep him out on the floor, and that's all I was trying to do. I was able to stay aggressive, but not pick up that fifth foul."

Said Collins: "I told him, `Popeye, you've got to be smart. I can't take you out right now.' They had made a little run at us to take the lead and I couldn't have Etan [Thomas] and Brendan [Haywood] together on the floor at that time, because it would have given us two non-scorers, and they have to respect Popeye out there offensively. And Popeye did it. He played his tail off. I did gamble, but he's a smart player and I knew he could do it."

In fairness, the Kings, who were 13-1 against the Eastern Conference since Nov. 10 coming into last night's game, were visiting their third Eastern city in four days, and Webber was playing after sitting out Tuesday's win in Boston with a stomach flu.

"It's sad, but this game is probably bigger to them than to us," said Webber, a former Wizard. "We've got to play them again, and then there's a whole other season. This is not the way you want to end the first half of the season, but we're still in first place and we're OK."

But the Wizards played a disciplined, nearly error-free contest, committing only nine turnovers -- the fourth straight game they've committed fewer than 10 -- and refusing to let the Kings (37-12), who had six players in double figures, get them into a track meet.

"We came into the game just hoping to control the tempo," Jordan said. "We knew we couldn't run with this team. We wanted to pick and choose when we could run and when we couldn't, rebound the ball well and try to cut down their opportunities. And I think we did a great job."

The Wizards, who embark on a three-game West Coast swing against the Los Angeles Lakers, Kings and Phoenix Suns after the All-Star break, have advanced past the novelty stage, and with wins this week over the Kings, Indiana and Toronto, are poised to make a solid second-half run.

"We want to make the playoffs," Collins said. "I said that when we started, I said that when we were 2-9, and I'll say that right now today. We want these people [the fans] to come in here after April 16 and watch a game."

Next for Wizards

Opponent: Los Angeles Lakers

Site: Staples Center, Los Angeles

When: Tuesday, 10:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: CSN/WTEM (980 AM)

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