WASHINGTON - Michael Jordan has seemingly always treated the New York Knicks with a bit of disdain, dropping 55 points on them in his first game back at Madison Square Garden as he ended his first retirement, and blocking their playoff path generally during his remarkable career.
Last night, though, Jordan and the Washington Wizards needed a little more help putting away the pesky Knicks, who nearly made up a 21-point second-half deficit.
That help came in the form of Larry Hughes and Jerry Stackhouse, who combined to make eight free throws in the final minute to put away a 100-97 win over the Knicks.
In particular, Hughes, who has been hampered by a wrist injury, was outstanding, scoring 22 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and handing out six assists in his best all-around game of the season for his third straight double double.
Hughes, signed as a free agent in the offseason from the Golden State Warriors, has steadily picked up his play in the last few weeks, particularly since Juan Dixon went on the injured list last week.
Dixon's wrist injury has required more offense from the Wizards' cast of regulars, and Hughes is responding to the opportunity.
"Offense is a little tough for me sometimes," Hughes said. "I can gauge where the ball is coming off, but I really can't go and get it. We're all really good players in this league, but to be able to shoot, rebound, pass and to get everybody excited is key."
Stackhouse had 22 points and seven assists, but only six in the second half, while Jordan scored 20 points, hitting six straight shots during one stretch as well as pulling down a season-high nine rebounds for Washington (9-11).
In addition, Christian Laettner, one of the big beneficiaries of Wizards coach Doug Collins' decision to give the veterans heavy minutes, had a season-high 15 points. By contrast, neither rookie forward Jared Jeffries nor second-year forward Kwame Brown got off the bench.
"I'm only going to play the guys that help us win," Collins said. "Right now, we are 3-1 [with the veterans]."
The Knicks (5-13), who trailed 74-53 with six minutes to go in the third quarter, shaved the lead to one with 18.8 seconds to go as Charlie Ward, who scored 10 points in the final four minutes, hit a layup after sinking two three-pointers in New York's desperate run.
However, Stackhouse made his free throws in the final seconds to preserve a surprisingly hard-fought win, the Wizards' third in their past four games.
"We allowed them to get back in the game, and we didn't close it out the way we would like to," Stackhouse said. "We had full control of the game in the first half and, instead of just putting them out, we allowed them to hang around. Fortunately, we made some key free throws down the stretch."
Said Collins: "We will find a way to make things interesting. We had some moments of great basketball, and then we had some moments of panic. I'm thrilled we won, but I don't like to get into these kinds of situations. These are the kinds of games that can break your heart."
NOTES: The Wizards announced after the game that they had waived center Ratko Varda, who came to Washington in the offseason with Stackhouse and forward Brian Cardinal for guard Richard Hamilton and others. Varda, who spent the entire season on the injured list with a sore right hamstring and lower back, was said to have been disappointed that he was not added to the roster when Dixon went on the injured list, especially given Washington's problems inside of late.
Next for Wizards
Opponent:Portland Trail Blazers
Site:MCI Center, Washington
When:Tuesday, 7 p.m.
TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet/WTEM (980 AM)