Jordan, Wizards win debate, trash mouthy young Nuggets

Challenged veteran gives reply with big 4th quarter in 89-74 comeback victory

January 21, 2003|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - Even if he can't jump out of gyms and hit impossible jumpers like he used to, there is one thing that Michael Jordan can still do better than just about anyone on the planet: talk trash.

The upstart Denver Nuggets, with four rookies on their active roster, had the audacity to believe that they could not only outscore Jordan's Washington Wizards yesterday at MCI Center, but also out-talk him.

Silly Nuggets; woofing is for kids. The Wizards erased Denver's 10-point first-half lead by the third quarter, and rode Jordan's hot hand in the fourth, on the way to a surprisingly hard-fought, 89-74 win.

"I go out to play the game and I'm not going to initiate the conversation, but if someone wants to initiate conversation, from that point on, then it's conversation, especially with the young kids," said Jordan, who had a team-high 25 points.

"When they come out, they should just try to adjust. Then they'll try to intimidate and that doesn't work, especially in our building. In Denver, they can get the crowd behind them, but in our building, we have a sense of pride. It took just a couple of minutes before that got ignited."

Led by former Wizards forward Juwan Howard, the Nuggets (10-30) started talking from the opening tap. Howard, who was dealt to the Dallas Mavericks almost two years ago at the trade deadline, was booed heavily after practically every shot he hit in the first half, and seemed to feed off the abuse.

"It wasn't a one-man gang, maybe [more like] America's Most Wanted," said Howard, who hit his first seven shots on the way to 25 points. "I love it when I come here and they boo me. I'm a guy you love to hate, baby."

In one bizarre first-quarter moment, Howard came over to the Washington huddle during a timeout to talk to Washington coach Doug Collins, though both men said Howard was not acting out hostilities toward Collins, but feeding off the crowd's reaction.

"He had his team really chippy [yesterday]," Collins said of Howard. "They had a real edge about them and they came out and they jumped all over us. We did a much better job in the second half defensively on Juwan. We came out and took away some of those jumpers he was hitting. But Juwan played great. He had his team emotionally into the game."

But the Wizards (21-20) slowly but surely put the clamps on the Nuggets in the second half. Trailing by three at the intermission, Washington outscored Denver 15-6 to start the third period, then put the game away in the fourth, as Jordan scored 12 points, flanked by Tyronn Lue, who hit for seven of his 10 points in the period.

"It was a pretty feisty game," Jordan said. "They kind of woke us up. We were in a fog early. The conversation got a little loud and I think it just woke everybody up. From that point on, I think we knew we were in a game, a dogfight, not just on the court, but in a war of words. At the end of the day, winning can shut a lot of people up. Once we got the lead, some of that conversation kind of dissipated."

Said Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik, a former UMBC coach and Washington Bullets assistant: "What happened is that some of our younger players, and we warned them of this, Jordan starts woofing, and they start woofing back. They think they're in Hollywood or something, instead of just playing. You could see it coming, it happened. They forget what they're supposed to be doing instead of just playing. Plus, he has the ability to back it up."

Afterward, Jordan reiterated that he would not be offended to be left off the 12-man Eastern Conference All-Star squad.

He added that he would not be interested in taking a 13th slot, which would be added, as has been suggested in some corners, to honor Jordan and retiring San Antonio center David Robinson.

"If I can't make it on the merits, of 12 players per team, then I don't want a 13th spot. I don't feel comfortable with that one."

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