- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 12, 2001

MEMPHIS, Tenn. Just the other day Washington Wizards coach Doug Collins pulled out that turning-the-corner cliche about his team, and you know what? He just might be right.

Just ask the Memphis Grizzlies, who last night fell prey to the Wizards' buzz saw 91-81 at the sold-out Pyramid.

The victory was their third in a row, the most the Wizards have strung together since they won five straight last season in late January. And even though the Wizards don't want to look ahead, they have to be salivating over the prospect of the horrid Miami Heat losers of 14 of 16 games tonight at MCI Center.

The game, which improved the Wizards to 8-12, marked another night in the team's evolution where it did not have to lean heavily on Michael Jordan. Jordan played 31 minutes and finished with 16 points, nine assists and six rebounds.

It was another solid game. Jordan, however, didn't mince words when describing the best player on the team last night Richard Hamilton.

Hamilton finished with a season-high 30 points, most coming on short jumpers and slicing forays to the basket that left Shane Battier completely flummoxed and exasperated.

That's why when asked if he minded sitting back and watching Hamilton dominate, Jordan just shrugged.

"I have no problem with that," Jordan said matter-of-factly. "Rip is our future as far as the organization. My future is probably back upstairs. Right now I'm complementing Rip. When I came down I didn't come down with the notion of trying to steal the spotlight from our young kids. I came down to help our young kids understand the game of basketball and change the whole face of the organization. Now we've made some steps in the right direction. We've got a long way to go but we're moving in the right direction."

Collins was even more glowing toward Hamilton, who has now led the team in scoring in four of its last five games. Collins no doubt was paying attention as Hamilton beat a path up and down the court all night and for all intents and purposes humiliated any Memphis player who tried to defend him.

"He is such a sweet shooter," Collins said. "As I said the other night, I think he's the best mid-range jump shooter in the NBA. When he curls in there at that 15-foot area I don't know of anybody who can shoot the ball better than him."

Said Hamilton: "When I'm out there I'm getting more and more comfortable every game. I'm learning how to play with Michael; I'm learning how Coach coaches and I'm just going out there playing. The shots that I shoot in games are the shots that I shoot in practice. We're all practicing better."

Hamilton wasn't the only Wizard to play well. In fact, the entire team contributed. Brendan Haywood continues to be a force, finishing with 17 points and a career-high 15 rebounds and four blocked shots. Starting center Jahidi White played only 16 minutes but grabbed nine boards and blocked a pair of shots. And the Wizards bench, which is becoming more of a factor with each game, outscored the Grizzlies' bench 32-20.

Jason Williams led the Grizzlies with 17 points and 11 assists.

The Wizards looked good from the start against the Grizzlies.

Coming off a productive first half against the Dallas Mavericks in which they scored a then season-high 55 points, Washington was even better against the Grizzlies, making 55.3 percent of their shots and scoring 58 points in the first 24 minutes.

Washington used a 9-0 run to take a 13-4 lead with just more than eight minutes to play in the first quarter. But Williams got hot, making three 3-pointers to get the Grizzlies back in the game as the first quarter ended with the Wizards on top 28-27.

As Collins promised, he removed Jordan without about four minutes left in the quarter, but the Wizards weren't bothered by his absence.

Instead, other players stepped into the spotlight. Haywood was a presence at both ends, altering shots or blocking them on the way to 14 points and eight rebounds by halftime.

But the true hot hand belonged to the mercurial Hamilton. Hamilton sliced through the Grizzlies' non-existent defense almost at will on his way to 16 points by intermission.

The victory left the Wizards' road record at 6-6. Last night the only talk following the game was returning to MCI Center and capturing a rare win at home, where they are 2-6.

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