- The Washington Times - Friday, December 7, 2001

HOUSTON Two nights earlier in a loss at San Antonio, Washington Wizards coach Doug Collins said that even with Michael Jordan the outcome would have been the same.

Last night against the substantially worse Houston Rockets, it was Jordan, late in the game, who was the difference.

Jordan made just nine of 23 field goal attempts on his way to 18 points. But when it mattered most, Jordan dug down and delivered, scoring 10 of the team's 25 fourth-quarter points to help carry the Wizards (6-12) to an 85-82 victory over the Houston Rockets (7-13).

Richard Hamilton led the Wizards with 26 points and carried them for most of the night with Jordan struggling. But it was Jordan, who played 33 minutes on his aching right knee, who made the difference in a game that saw 18 ties and the lead change 16 times.

Jordan sat out the Wizards' 103-88 loss to San Antonio on Wednesday, marking the first regular-season game he had missed since March 5, 1993.

In making his return to the lineup, Jordan was fortunate in that his first matchup was against Glen Rice, who has been struggling this season and has yet to find his game.

And not coincidentally, Rice didn't even stick around for the end of the game. Rice left the game for good in the third quarter due to a sore knee and finished with just five points.

This left the already injury-depleted Rockets forced to guard Jordan with Walt Williams, and the former Maryland standout clearly had his problems, especially down the stretch.

Though he struggled early, Jordan and the Wizards were able to ride the efficient shooting of Hamilton (10 for 22) for most of the night. And when Jordan, who spent the waning moments of the third quarter on the bench,returned with just over nine minutes left in the game, he and some of the other players were able to take the Wizards home.

Moments after his return Jordan immediately scored back-to-back baskets and assisted on a dunk by Brendan Haywood that pushed the Wizards' lead to 70-63.

The Rockets, who have now lost eight straight games, almost got back into the game when Hubert Davis fouled reserve guard Oscar Torres, who was shooting from behind the 3-point line and the Rockets trailing 83-79. Torres made all three of his shots, but Hamilton was fouled at the other end and put the game away.

Cuttino Mobley led the Rockets, who were playing without injured Steve Francis, with 25 points. Popeye Jones added 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Wizards, and Tyronn Lue finished with nine points and five assists.

The Rockets haven't scored 100 points or more since their last victory on Nov. 17, when they scored 124 in a rout of Dallas. They have been plagued by injuries, most notably the one to Francis, and they haven't been able to slow teams at the defensive end.

And going into last night's game against the Wizards, the Rockets suffered the greatest of indignities an NBA franchise is capable of, being routed by lowly Chicago.

Jordan demonstrated an explosiveness not exhibited throughout most of this season when he went baseline, past a flat-footed Williams, for a one-handed slam dunk midway through the second quarter. Otherwise Jordan was rather pedestrian in the first half. He missed seven of his 10 field goal attempts and he was charged with two of the Wizards' four turnovers.

But Jordan was not the only player having his problems in the second half. Neither team shot the ball well and the execution was, at best, sloppy for both. In fact, the first half was primarily a battle between Mobley and Hamilton, with the edge going to Mobley.

Mobley connected on seven of 10 shots for 17 points in the first half, and most, primarily jump shots, came over Hamilton.

Hamilton's inability to defend against Mobley in the first quarter forced Collins to turn most of the playing minutes over to Hubert Davis and Courtney Alexander.

Hamilton, who scored 10 points in the first quarter.

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