- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2001

NEW YORK Michael Jordan's long awaited return to the NBA last night didn't have the fairy tale ending so many Washington Wizards fans thought it would.

Jordan struggled in a soldout (19,763) Madison Square Garden, shooting 7-for-21 and finishing with 19 points as the Wizards fell to the New York Knicks 93-91 in their season opener. Jordan led the Wizards with a team-high six assists.

One reason Jordan might have struggled was an ailing right knee that has kept him from participating in the team's closed practices.

"Michael hasn't practiced since Friday," Wizards coach Doug Collins said.

Jordan said the knee bothered him to a degree, but said it wasn't the sole reason for the loss.

"I'm feeling pretty good right now," said Jordan, who made just two field goals in the second half. "I think that the key was we didn't keep up the intensity in the second quarter. That carried over into the third quarter and the Knicks took advantage of that. They're a veteran team, and that's what they're supposed to do."

Latrell Sprewell led the Knicks with 28 points, and Allan Houston added 22. Sprewell scored 10 in the decisive fourth quarter, which helped the Knicks rally against a Washington team that made 13 of 22 field goals in the fourth quarter.

Chris Whitney came off the bench to score 18 points for the Wizards. Popeye Jones added 13 and grabbed a team-high seven rebounds. Richard Hamilton scored 13 points but played just three minutes in the fourth quarter. Rookie Kwame Brown scored two points and blocked a game-high three shots before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with a mildly sprained right ankle.

The Garden has always been a special place for Jordan, mostly because of the heartbreak he has caused its fans. Jordan routinely killed the Knicks in this building. And just five games into his last comeback in 1995, Jordan had a career-high 55 here.

But last night was much different.

Jordan opened the game at point guard, guarded by Sprewell. He remained at that position most of the night. Defensively, he spent the game rotating between Sprewell and Mark Jackson.

The Knicks, a playoff team last season, were without center Marcus Camby, who was on the bench in street clothes with an injured left foot. In his place the Knicks started journeyman Felton Spencer. Also missing from their lineup was Larry Johnson, who finally retired because of a bad back.

Washington, which blew an 11-point lead in the second quarter, rallied from a 10-point deficit in the third to lead 79-75 with 6:28 left in the game. New York reclaimed the lead at 89-86 following a jumper from Sprewell with 1:46 to play.

Jordan responded with a basket with 1:11 left that pulled the Wizards to within 89-88.

But the Wizards' inability to grab a rebound killed them. New York got a pair of offensive rebounds that led to a pair of Othella Harrington free throws and a 91-88 lead with 34.7 left.

Following a timeout, Jordan committed a turnover and missed a jumper. A loose ball foul on Tyrone Nesby with 16.3 seconds left resulted in two Kurt Thomas free throws an secured the Knicks' lead at 93-88.

Jordan's night included an air ball just three minutes into the first quarter, as well as a missed layup on which he was pressured by Sprewell. Double-teamed early, Jordan scored six points on three of eight shooting in the first quarter. Richard Hamilton, however, benefited from the doubling to score seven points.

The Wizards put some space between themselves and the Knicks as the game progressed into the second quarter. With Whitney coming off the bench nailing open jumpers and the Wizards getting baskets in transition, Washington built a 39-28 lead with 4:26 left in the half.

To that point the Wizards were the team with all the energy, and it appeared as if they might get to halftime with a nice lead.

But the Wizards did not sustain their energy and the Knicks finally started playing like the home team.

With Sprewell and Jackson (seven points, eight assists) leading the way, New York steadily whittled away at the Washington lead. During this crucial stretch Washington's defense broke down in a few instances and resulted in the Knicks pulling to within 43-41 at the half.

New York's hot stretch carried over to the start of the third quarter. A 14-6 run was all that Collins needed to see before calling a timeout with 8:16 left and his team facing its largest deficit, 55-49, of the evening to that point.

Washington surged back into the game at the start of the fourth quarter under unlikely conditions. With Jordan on the bench, Washington reeled off the first eight points of the quarter part of a 12-2 run that put it ahead for the first time since early in the third quarter.


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