WASHINGTON - Just when the weather outside, not to mention their injury situation, has turned frightful, the Washington Wizards have picked this time of the season to play borderline delightful basketball.
With their two main horses, Jerry Stackhouse and Michael Jordan, nursing minor leg injuries and starting point guard Tyronn Lue possibly out for a week or more with a shoulder injury, the Wizards lost a 20-point halftime lead but dug deep into a newfound well of resiliency to claw out a 100-98 overtime win against the Houston Rockets last night at MCI Center.
"I think one of the hardest things to do is, when you lose a big lead and a team hits a shot to put you into overtime, to get yourself back up - and I thought our guys did a great job of that," said Washington coach Doug Collins.
The Rockets, who made up a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit Sunday in an overtime win at Boston, nearly pulled off a similar comeback last night, erasing a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit.
Houston forward Maurice Taylor scored 15 of his 23 points in the fourth period and added four in overtime as Washington nearly gave back a double-digit lead to a Western Conference team for the second time in as many home games. On Sunday, the Wizards let the Dallas Mavericks crawl out of a 17-point hole to win in overtime.
Instead, Jordan scored 35 points last night, the third time in the past four games that he has scored 30 or more. He also had a team-high 11 rebounds and scored 10 of Washington's 12 points in the extra period.
"I felt about 85 percent. It feels a lot better with the win," said Jordan, who was nursing an ailing right quadriceps muscle, an injury suffered in Tuesday's win in Indiana. "I was trying not to overdo it. In the fourth quarter, I overdid it, but in overtime, it was more or less just gut it out. I made some big shots and Stack hit a big shot. If we had had to go to another overtime, it would have been tough."
Said Collins: "I don't know how many guys would have played with what Michael had tonight. When I saw it [Jordan's leg] this morning, it was totally puffed up, but he played 50 minutes. When you have a guy like that setting the tone for your team, that's where you get resilience."
Stackhouse, who has tendinitis in his right knee and missed the morning shoot-around, as did Jordan, added 28 points, including the other overtime basket, a tough 22-footer over Cuttino Mobley with 34.1 seconds left. The Wizards shot 58.9 percent for the game, one of their best shooting performances of the season.
Their third win in four games moved the Wizards (28-29) into a tie for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot with the idle Milwaukee Bucks.
Already bitten by the injury bug - forward Etan Thomas is out two to six weeks with a fractured left eye socket and guard Larry Hughes is out two more weeks with a sprained right ankle - Washington suffered another injury last night.
Lue, the starting point guard, suffered a mild left shoulder separation and a cut over his left eye in a collision diving for a loose ball with 5:28 to go in regulation and had to leave the game.
Though Lue said he thought he could play tomorrow against the Chicago Bulls, the team said he would be out up to 10 days. Collins said team officials likely will look for a guard in the Continental Basketball Association or National Basketball Developmental League to play here on a 10-day contract. Jordan, Stackhouse and rookie Juan Dixon are the only ballhandlers on the current roster.
The Wizards also could re-sign former Washington point guard Chris Whitney, whom they traded to the Denver Nuggets before the season, or sign Bimbo Coles, who was cut yesterday by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Taylor converted a three-point play with 1:07 left in the fourth quarter to cut the Washington lead to 86-83, then Yao Ming (16 points, 11 rebounds) converted two foul shots with 24.2 seconds remaining to slice the lead to one point.
Stackhouse hit two free throws with 19.9 seconds left to push the Washington lead back to three, but Mobley (24 points) made a three-pointer from the left wing with 13.3 seconds to go to tie the score.
On the ensuing possession, Jordan inbounded the ball, then got a pass from Dixon with about five seconds left. Jordan launched a 20-foot jumper over Taylor, but it rolled off the rim as the horn sounded.
In overtime, Jordan scored Washington's first 10 points, and the Wizards built a 100-96 lead.
Taylor hit a baseline jumper with 29.5 seconds left to make it 100-98. Jordan missed a short jumper with six seconds left, but the Rockets, who had full and 20-second timeouts remaining, elected to come upcourt after the rebound.
Former Maryland star Steve Francis, who shot 1-for-13 on the night, drove the floor and went airborne to launch a potential game-winning three-pointer, but he passed off to Mobley, whose three-point try rimmed out.