Wizards win

Jordan might practice soon

Whitney's late heroics defeat Warriors, 99-96

March 19, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. - A guy dressed in a milk carton with a poster-sized picture of Michael Jordan across the front and the words "Got Mike?" made his way around the Arena last night, as if to mock his absence from the Washington Wizards.

And while Jordan may be back with the Wizards before they return home next week, all they really needed last night was Chris Whitney to pull out a hard-fought, 99-96 win over the Golden State Warriors before the first non-sellout crowd this season.

Whitney, who had a team-high 20 points, hit a clutch three-pointer with 12.8 seconds to go, then sank two free throws with 5.9 seconds remaining to give Washington (31-36) its second win in the past three games on a six-game Western swing.

Washington had trouble with Golden State's talented rookie backcourt of Jason Richardson and Gilbert Arenas, who combined for 46 points and shot 16-for-27 from the field.

Richardson, a former Michigan State standout who won the league's Slam Dunk competition and was the Most Valuable Player in the Rookie Challenge at All-Star Weekend, also pulled down a team-high nine rebounds.

Arenas, who, like Richardson played in last year's Final Four, when he was with Arizona, handed out six assists.

But both missed key free throws in the final 37.5 seconds to open the door for Washington, while Arenas was screened off Whitney's shot by Christian Laettner. And Arenas was called for a controversial charging foul with 6.7 seconds to go, when he drove into Popeye Jones, who was planted just outside the half-circle near the basket.

Meanwhile, Washington's Richard Hamilton slogged through a sub-par shooting performance, hitting just 6-for-19 shots for 17 points to lead the Wizards.

The Warriors (17-48), who had traded leads with the Wizards throughout most of the game, seemed to catch fire late in the third, when Chris Mills sank a three-pointer on the right wing and was wiped out on the play by Tyrone Nesby. Mills converted the free throw and set off a 10-2 run that spanned into the fourth quarter and gave Golden State an 85-78 lead with 9:12 to go.

But the Wizards hung tough through the fourth, and outscored Golden State 15-6 in the final five minutes to claim the win.

The Wizards, who have gone 3-8 since Jordan went on the injured list Feb. 26 with a cartilage tear in his right knee, might get him back by the time the road trip ends Sunday in Toronto.

Jordan may join the team later this week toward the end of the Western portion to practice with the team before returning to the lineup.

Wizards coach Doug Collins said before last night's game that Jordan told him that the knee was responding well to workouts.

"He could show up any time," said Collins. "I think it could depend on how he's feeling. He may say, `Let's jump on my plane and let's go.' As of right now, I don't know."

Collins said Jordan, who had arthroscopic surgery Feb. 27, said the right knee feels "100 percent better than before he had the surgery" and the fact that he is doing defensive slides, as well as picking up the pace to see how his knee responds to the workload "are all positive things."

Collins said Jordan would certainly try to practice at least twice before returning. The Wizards conclude their Western swing tomorrow night in Denver and Thursday in Utah, then play Sunday in Toronto.

The Warriors were sizzling hot out of the gate, working the inside and outside games to near perfection. When Arenas and Antawn Jamison hit back-to-back three-pointers midway through the half, Golden State had an 18-12 lead and looked poised to run the Wizards out of the gym, finishing the quarter shooting 67 percent, and taking a 32-26 lead after the first period.

Washington responded in the second, starting the period with a 16-4 run. Kwame Brown hit three baskets in the spurt, including an impressive follow-up dunk, as his slow, but steady development continues. The Wizards had a 42-36 lead, their largest of the half, with 7:48 to go, off the third of Brown's baskets.

Golden State quickly tied the score again at 42 on back-to-back three-pointers from Mills and Richardson, and the two teams, who each shot over 50 percent from the field for the half, traded leads until the final minute when Etan Thomas hit a reverse layup and Whitney made an 18-footer to give Washington a 56-54 lead at intermission.

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