- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2003

Everything was in place for the Washington Wizards to continue their slide Tuesday night against Orlando.

Michael Jordan committed a career-high nine turnovers, the Magic had an 11-0 advantage from behind the 3-point line and Tracy McGrady delivered the type of game that has made him one of the NBA's leading MVP candidates.

So how did the Wizards do it? After all, this was a team that spent the days before the 106-105 victory over the Magic playing an ugly public blame game for its recent fall back into the lottery pack.

"I let them work it out," coach Doug Collins said. "That's why you didn't hear me with a lot of rhetoric. Sometimes my rhetoric will only throw gasoline on the fire when it doesn't need to have that. Sometimes the coach has got to take a step back and let the players work it out."

What Collins wanted from the Wizards (31-33), who had lost four of five games before Tuesday, was for them to play like a team. They couldn't afford a repeat of Sunday's loss to New York a game in which Jordan scored 39 points, 26 more than any other player, and the storyline became Jordan's criticism of his teammates' efforts rather than his final game at Madison Square Garden.

What Collins got against the Magic was far different. Led by Jerry Stackhouse's 31 points, eight assists and five rebounds, three Wizards scored more than 20 points in the game, improving the team's record to 4-0 this season when that happens. All the starters scored in double figures, and Washington is 14-5 when five or more players do so.

"The difference between this game and the others was that we played together," said Larry Hughes, who finished with a season-high nine assists to go with his 20 points. "That's been our biggest problem all year. We have stretches where we've gone for about a week and had good rhythm. But we haven't been consistent with it. I think a lot of that is because we have about seven new faces on the team."

Perhaps this is why Jordan, who scored 23 points against the Magic while trying along with Bryon Russell to slow McGrady, attempted to light a fire under his teammates. Jordan desperately wants to make the playoffs in his final season, and he knows everyone is watching.

"A lot of people may feel like we can't [make the playoffs]," Jordan said. "That doesn't mean we believe everything we hear or we read. We are the only ones that can control that. … I think if we believe it, we are certainly capable. And it's a lot about going out there and just doing it."

There had been some talk about the timing of Jordan's statement and whether it was the right thing to say to a young team that Collins says he "never knows what to expect from."

"Someone needed to say it, and I said it," Jordan said. "I think we learn from those situations. I think the effort was a lot better, and the end result shows that. I think Jerry came out and gave us a great offensive output, and everybody else just chipped in. Hughes played well, B. Russell came out and played some great defense. It was a good team effort."

Nonetheless, the Wizards face the reality that 12 of their remaining 18 games beginning tomorrow night at Detroit are on the road, where the Wizards have won just nine times.

"We've lost some games that we should have won, but so has everyone else," Stackhouse said. "But if we play together, we've got a better chance."

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