WASHINGTON - Just when the weather outside, not to mention their injury situation, has turned frightful, the Washington Wizards have picked this time in the season to play fearful basketball.
With their two main horses, Jerry Stackhouse and Michael Jordan, nursing minor leg injuries, the Wizards lost a 16-point fourth-quarter lead, but dug deep into a recently found well of resiliency to claw out a 100-98 overtime win against the Houston Rockets last night at MCI Center.
Jordan, nursing an ailing right quadriceps muscle, scored 35 points, his fifth straight game with 20 or more, and had 11 re bounds. Stackhouse, who has tendinitis in his right knee, added 28 for the Wizards, who shot 59 percent in 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.
Washington, already bitten by the injury bug with Etan Thomas out for two to six weeks with a fractured left eye socket, suffered another injury when starting point guard Tyronn Lue was kicked in the head with 5:28 to go and left the game with a cut over his left eye.
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 behind forward Maurice Taylor, who scored 15 of his 23 points in the final period.
Taylor converted a three-point play with 1:07 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 remaining to take the Washington lead back to three, but Cuttino Mobley (24 points) hit 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 Juan Dixon with about five seconds left. He then launched a 20-foot jumper over Taylor, but the shot rolled off the rim as the horn sounded.
In overtime, Jordan scored Washington's first 10 points, then Stackhouse hit a tough 22-footer over Mobley with 34.1 seconds remaining to give Washington a 100-96 lead.
Taylor made a baseline jumper with 29.5 seconds left. Jordan missed a short jumper with six seconds left, but the Rockets, who had full and 20-second timeouts remaining, elected to run a play.
Steve Francis 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 off at the horn.
Jordan and Stackhouse missed the morning shoot- around, nursing their respective ailments. Stackhouse, who missed 10 games because of a pulled right groin muscle, suffered a flare-up of tendinitis in his right knee, which Washing ton coach Doug Collins attributed to him favoring one leg to compensate for pain in the other leg.
Jordan's injury, suffered late in Tuesday night's win at Indiana, was more problematical. He took a knee in his right quadriceps from Reggie Miller, and the swelling was so bad that Jordan considered sitting out last night, which would have been his first missed game of the season.
"I thought it was his knee." Collins said before the game. 'But then he came over M-` and said he got hit right above the knee. If he had gotten hit on that kneecap, that would have been tough, because that would have been one of those bone bruises and that would have been bad."
Jordan, who missed 12 games last season after bumping knees with Etan Thomas in a post-All-Star break practice, wore a compression stocking on his right leg to keep the blood from the muscle from draining into his knee. He didn't appear to show any ill effects in the first half, hitting his first three shots of the first quarter, after Stackhouse staked the Wizards to a 5-2 lead with a three-pointer and a 16-foot turnaround.
The Wizards shot a sizzling 78 percent in the first quarter, missing only four of 18 shots, their best shooting performance for a quarter all season, as they took a 29-20 lead.
Houston's only highlight came on its opening basket, with Yao scoring on a finger roll around Brendan Haywood, as the Rockets shot 39 percent.
Washington's hot shooting continued in the second quarter as Charles Oakley hit a pair of 17-foot jumpers to extend the Wizards" lead to 33-22. Glen Rice hit a three-pointer with 4:26 re maining to cut the Washington lead to 45-35, but the Rockets didn't score again the rest of the period.
Jordan scored eight of Washington's last 10 points in the quarter for a halftime total of 18 on 7-for-11 shooting, with a game-high seven rebounds to boot. Add that to Stackhouse's 14 points and the team's 65 percent shooting for the half, and the Wizards had a 55-35 lead at intermission.