- The Washington Times - Monday, December 16, 2002

TORONTO It looked yesterday as if Michael Jordan was ready to concede to age, accepting the inevitability that Father Time was ready to lump the end of his career with those of Willie Mays and Muhammad Ali.
But at the end of the Washington Wizards' 95-82 victory over the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre, a game in which Jordan tied his career low with just two points, Jordan and Wizards coach Doug Collins said that it was all part of a plan.
Jordan's line will say he was just 1-for-9 from the floor. But it also will say he notched a season-high nine assists and grabbed eight rebounds.
But what the stat sheet won't show is that once Jordan realized his shot was way off, he made up his mind that he would only shoot if he had a free lane in which to drive to the basket.
"They forced me into taking some shots I wasn't going to shoot," Jordan said after the Wizards (10-13) ended a two-game losing skid and won for just the fourth time in 13 games. "I didn't care about shooting. I just wanted to create a threat. When the defense comes I wanted to move the ball, rebound and play solid defense. That was my sole purpose."
The victory was cathartic because it came after two games in which the Wizards showed little a 19-point home defeat to Portland, their worst loss of the season, and a horrid performance in New Jersey on Saturday in which they scored a franchise-low 65 points.
And when it was all over yesterday, it didn't really matter that the Raptors played without their two best players, Vince Carter (right knee) and Antonio Davis (also right knee), or that the Raptors (7-16) have now lost four in a row and six of their last seven.
When you're struggling the way the Wizards have been, you look for anything positive. And after yesterday's win there were reasons to be optimistic about the future, or at least until they play at Atlanta tomorrow.
Jerry Stackhouse was 10-for-22 from the floor and scored 28 points. Larry Hughes saw his string of five consecutive double-doubles end as he finished with 14 points and five rebounds, but there were other bright spots.
Brendan Haywood finished with 10 points, five rebounds and a blocked shot, but he probably altered at least four more shots. And Kwame Brown scored in double figures (14 points) for just the third time in the last 12 games. Christian Laettner added eight points, seven assists and seven rebounds.
"We made a little bit of an adjustment to give some of our post players a little more space," Collins said. "Kwame was great today, and I thought Brendan and Christian both did a great job."
But it was Jordan's effort that Collins talked about most.
"He controlled the game especially when it counted and he was terrific defensively," Collins said. "More importantly he had eight rebounds and nine assists. We had 26 assists as a team and he set the pace. When he does that it makes us a different team and he knows that."
The Raptors probably wish they could be a different team. They bear no resemblance to the team that just two seasons ago nearly reached the conference finals.
The Raptors hardly took the ball inside and opted to live on the outside with jumpers that stopped falling in the second half. Lindsey Hunter paced the Raptors with 22 points in 24 minutes off the bench. Starting guards Voshon Lenard and Alvin Williams, who played on a sore left ankle, finished with 18 and 15 points, respectively.
The Raptors made eight of 21 3-point shots, but their misses helped the Wizards get the ball in transition and move the ball on offense, something they have struggled with at times this season.
"It's always a sign when we get 20-plus assists that we're moving the ball," Stackhouse said. "We had a good night tonight because we did a good job of taking what the defense gave us. The young guys played well. When they play like that it makes it easier for us to get shots."
And easier for Jordan to pass them up.

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