- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 20, 2001

Midway through the third quarter last night, the Washington Wizards' Chris Whitney was still 18 feet from the basket and closely guarded by Jacque Vaughn with just seconds remaining on the shot clock. Whitney pump-faked to get Vaughn in the air and threw up an off-balance shot. It went in and Vaughn fouled Whitney.
It was that kind of night for the streaking Wizards, whose bench gave the team a lift before Michael Jordan caught fire in the second quarter in a 103-76 defeat of the Atlanta Hawks, the team's seventh straight victory, before a sellout crowd at MCI Center. The team's winning streak is the franchise's longest since the 1995-96 season, and last night's 27-point margin of victory is a season high. The Wizards are at .500 (12-12) for the first time since Nov. 4, the season's fourth game.
The Wizards look little like a team that started the season 2-9 and much like a squad that is building confidence with each victory. Coach Doug Collins said he's satisfied with the team's play but wishes he had more time with the players in training camp because they are really beginning to come together.
"Our guys are starting to get a nice feel for winning. That is our next step, to be winners," Collins said. "I have just tried to guide them in the direction, and they have done all the work."
Brendan Haywood and Tyronn Lue helped Washington gain some separation from the Hawks at the end of the first, and Jordan's 18 second-quarter points (on nine of 10 shooting) gave the Wizards a comfortable 16-point cushion at halftime. Jordan finished with a game-high 23 points, while Richard Hamilton added 20 and Jahidi White 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Jordan seemed to be showing and telling former Chicago Bulls teammate Toni Kukoc that he could not guard Jordan effectively. Jordan started 1-for-6, then hit nine straight shots, all but one a jumper, and had the whole arsenal working: the jumper off the screen, the stepback jumper, the bank shot after the pump fake.
"I kind of got hot, probably my best run since early in the season," said Jordan, who needed to play only 27 minutes. "I'm feeling my legs are starting to come back and my shot is starting to come on."
The Wizards led 25-16 with 6:41 left in the half when the barrage started, and he made nine of the team's next 10 field goals (and assisted on the other, a layup by White) to extend the lead to 47-33. Jordan was largely working on the 6-11 Kukoc, who could not match Jordan's footwork.
"It was very hard to guard him, and it reminded me of the old Michael in Chicago," Kukoc said.
The Wizards won with another complete effort. Sure, Jordan dazzled the crowd, but Hamilton, White and Whitney (13 points) all contributed.
Jordan pushed the Wizards ahead, but as has been the case in their recent winning streak, Haywood and Lue, who had eight assists and helped hold Jason Terry (16.6 average) to two points despite playing with a strep throat, were factors in the first-half run last night. The pair entered with 3:07 left in the first quarter and the score 14-14; they both finished the quarter, which the Wizards closed by scoring 10 of the final 12 points.
Lue played all 12 minutes and Haywood nine in the decisive second quarter. Haywood's seven blocks tied an MCI Center record.
"I was proud of the way our guys came out defensively," Collins said. "We really set out to really defend [Shareef Abdur-] Rahim and Jason Terry we felt if we kept those guys under wraps, it would be tough for then to beat us."
Outside of Vaughn, Kukoc and Abdur-Rahim, the Hawks didn't have much. Abdur-Rahim's free throw nearly halfway through the second quarter was the first point scored by an Atlanta player other than Vaughn and Kukoc. Of Atlanta's 55 points through three quarters, just six came from players other than Abdur-Rahim, Kukoc and Vaughn.
For his part, Kukoc did put up some points, hitting eight of 14 attempts from the field in the first half and finished with 19. But he'll be remembered last night for watching Jordan who said he told Kukoc that he (Jordan) would be wearing ice on the bench in the third quarter hit shot after shot over him.
It didn't get better for Atlanta in the opening minutes of the second half. The Wizards behind two more baskets for Jordan, including a vintage, double clutch shot scored 10 straight points to roll to a 59-33 lead. The Wizards stretched their lead to 31 en route to their largest margin of victory since March 20, 1999, a 30-point defeat of Cleveland.
The Wizards' success is certainly a stark contrast to their bumbling start, but Jordan cautioned against overconfidence, saying, "We haven't won anything except getting ourselves to .500."

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