- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 24, 2001

GREENVILLE, SC Some things we already know about the Washington Wizards:

They are a work in progress. Michael Jordan is the man. Richard Hamilton is clearly their second-best player.

What we don't know, though, is when Christian Laettner is going to show up.

Last night the Wizards earned their second exhibition victory of the season, avenging Saturday's loss to the New Jersey Nets with a 105-92 victory over them at the Bi-Lo Center. Jordan, in the game at the end, supplied 27 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Hamilton scored 15 points in the second half and finished with 23.

But Laettner, who talked of being rejuvenated under coach Doug Collins' new system, failed again to have any kind of impact. Laettner, who has scored just 33 points in six preseason games, was 1-for-7 from the field last night for three points. He grabbed just two rebounds and equaled that number in turnovers. Collins, who has started to voice concerns about his play, played him just 11 minutes last night.

Laettner's continued absence was not so ugly last night because the Wizards played their most complete game of the preseason. Leading 94-90 late in the fourth quarter, the Wizards pulled away with two Jordan jumpers and a Jahidi White dunk.

The Nets (3-3) were led by Keith Van Horn's 22 points. Todd MacCulloch added 21 points.

When the teams met earlier in the preseason at MCI Center, Jordan exploded with his best performance so far. Guarded most of the night by rookie Richard Jefferson, Jordan was 15-for-25 from the field for 41 points.

For the second time in as many nights the starting lineup consisted of Jordan, Laettner, Chris Whitney, Hamilton and White. Collins seems to favor that lineup at the moment, and even though Collins has indicated that players are still auditioning, this could be the starting lineup when the games start to matter next week.

Of those five, based on the minutes they have played during the preseason, sticking with Laettner might be considered questionable. He was handed the starting power forward job at the start of training camp but hasn't reached double figures in scoring since he opened the preseason with 10 points at Detroit.

Last night he got off to another horrible start, missing all but one of his first six shots in the first quarter. However, Laettner's inability to make a shot was the norm for both teams early. The Wizards led 21-20 after one period despite shooting an anemic 32 percent from the floor.

The Nets, led by Van Horn's six points, made just 34.8 percent of their shots.

However, the Wizards picked up the intensity in the second quarter, which was a good sign considering how the team has looked at times. Just the night before against an injury-depleted Philadelphia team, the Wizards looked disoriented, especially down the stretch when, with Jordan purposely on the bench, Washington mustered just 11 points in the fourth quarter.

Jordan was 6-for-6 from the free throw line and led the Wizards with 14 points at the half. Hamilton, who has been consistent for much of the preseason and is second on the team in scoring, had eight points by halftime. And Popeye Jones, the most consistent big man on the roster to this point, added six points off the bench. Jones finished with 10 points and five rebounds.

Van Horn, always a thorn in the Wizards' side, paced the Nets with 10 points. MacCulloch and Kerry Kittles worked the Wizards from the inside out to combine for 17 points.

One problem Jordan likely will have against taller small forwards was illustrated during a 14-6 New Jersey run at the start of the third quarter. Early in the third, Nets forward Kenyon Martin, at 6-foot-9 three inches taller than Jordan, posted Jordan up, gathered in a pass from Jason Kidd (seven points, 10 assists) and dunked the ball to give the Nets a 56-53 lead.

With Jordan on the bench for much of the quarter, Hamilton started to get hot. Hamilton used his speed to get to the basket, and he also drilled the Nets from the outside.

With the two teams going back and forth, Hamilton connected on all but two of his seven attempts in the quarter. MacCulloch kept pace for New Jersey. On a nice array of inside moves, MacCulloch, scored 11 points in the quarter.

Notes Wizards assistant coach Brian James left the team yesterday to be with his father, Robert James, in Bloomington, Ill. The elder James had to undergo emergency heart surgery yesterday.

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