Wizards put hurt on lowly Clippers

Playing in pain, Jordan inspires 99-80 triumph

March 06, 2003|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - For the record, the Washington Wizards were listing Michael Jordan as questionable to play against the Los Angeles Clippers last night, pending his recovery from back spasms suffered in Tuesday's loss to the Toronto Raptors.

But there was no question in anyone's mind, least of all Jordan's, that he would find a way to play, particularly with the Wizards' postseason life hanging so precariously.

As it happened, Jordan's presence wasn't so necessary, as the Wizards got a made-to-order, 99-80 blowout win over the hapless Clippers at MCI Center.

"I wanted to get out there," said Jordan, who scored 10 points in 24 minutes. "I had a lot of people tell me not to, because they felt like it would damage my long-term value. I said, `I don't have any long-term value.'

"I have 23 games left. I just want to play out. We need to get back on the winning track and if I'm out there and I create an awareness and I can lend some support, then that means more than me sitting at home in bed."

Jordan hit his first two shots, then shot 2-for-9 the rest of the first half, and 4-for-14 for the game. However, he also pulled down nine rebounds and helped hold Quentin Richardson and Corey Maggette to combined 7-for-25 shooting.

Jordan, who left late in the first half Tuesday, said he was stiff yesterday morning, but was able to get loose as the day wore on. He said he tried to keep his game "basic," jumping no more than a foot off the floor for rebounds, while providing aid and comfort to his teammates.

"I'd like to think that it [his presence] gave them some confidence," Jordan said. "I wasn't there [Tuesday] night. I wish I would have been. I think things could have been different.

"Sometimes, it's good to have big brother around, just for support. That's primarily why I wanted to play, not to chase down stats, but to be there and let the guys know that it means a lot to me, that I'm willing to go out there and go through some pain and some back problems."

Said Wizards coach Doug Collins: "If Michael wants to play, Michael is going to play. ... The doctor talked to him before the game. I was standing there and he said, `Michael, there is a great chance that your back might spasm up again.' He said, `Is it life-threatening? No? Then I'm going to play.' "

The victory was so thorough that Jordan, who's also nursing a right quadriceps muscle strain, left the game for good with 3:05 left and Washington leading by 20.

The lead had expanded to as much as 30 in the fourth quarter before Collins emptied the bench, sitting most of his starters for the entire period.

By that point, the damage had been done. Larry Hughes, in what Collins called one of his best games as a Wizard, scored 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting. Jerry Stackhouse had 20 points, including 10-for-10 on free throws, and Christian Laettner had his third double double in four games, with 10 points and 13 rebounds.

In losing their seventh straight, the Clippers (19-41) scored eight points in the third period, a season low for a Wizards opponent this season.

"We were able to get stops as well as run out ourselves," Stackhouse said. "We weren't just bogged down into the half-court sets like we were the other night. That always bodes well for us, when we can get in transition and get some easy opportunities."

Last night's victory, coupled with Milwaukee's loss to the Orlando Magic, placed the Wizards (30-31) in a tie with the Bucks for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The teams will meet here tomorrow night.

NOTES: Guard Juan Dixon, who was benched after three starts, had four points in 20 minutes. ... Center Jahidi White, who had been sidelined after offseason knee surgery, made his first appearance of the season in the fourth quarter, scoring on a pair of tough up-and-under moves for four points.

Next for Wizards

Opponent:Milwaukee Bucks

Site:MCI Center, Washington

When:Tomorrow, 7 p.m.

TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet/WTEM (980 AM)

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