- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 19, 2002

Michael Jordans point has been made perfectly clear.

After scoring two points three games ago in which he chose the role of facilitator rather than scorer, Jordan has now scored 63 in the last two, including 33 last night as the Washington Wizards defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 118-100 victory at sold-out (20,173) MCI Center.

"Tonight I got in a good rhythm, and I shot the ball well. It was probably the best rhythm that Ive been in since last year," Jordan said. "I think what it really did, more so than anything, is open up shots for everyone else. [Jerry Stackhouse] and the guys came out in the second half and got easier shots because the whole focus was on me. I like to create that every now and then."

The win, Washingtons third in a row for the second time this season, improved the Wizards record to 12-13. They can reach .500 for the first time since Nov. 22 with a victory against San Antonio on Saturday.

Although Jordan played 35 minutes and logged 38 one night earlier in Atlanta, last nights minutes were not that demanding as he was able to put his game on cruise control for most of the night thanks to a blistering start that saw him score 23 points on 10-for-14 shooting in the first half.

"These are easy minutes, good minutes, because everything is in rhythm," Jordan said. "Im not really working hard. I mean, Im working hard - I dont want that misunderstood - but the ball is moving, Im coming off screens and Im even getting to the free throw line. Thats when Im at my best and I can make an impact in the game."

Jordans early success sent a message to the Grizzlies that they were in for a long evening."Once he hit his first few, we knew it would be hard to shut him down," said the Grizzlies Shane Battier. "We hoped we could just weather the storm, and hopefully the 40-plus minutes he played last night would get him the second half."

The victory was in contrast to the teams last performance at MCI Center, a 98-79 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers that saw the Wizards booed off the court. The Wizards were diametrically different last night. They had a pristine first half that demoralized the Grizzlies, and they maintained a healthy double-digit lead for almost the entire second half.

Jordans eruption stole thunder from a great team effort. The Wizards made a season-high 62 percent of their shots. Stackhouse scored 25 points on 10-for-17 shooting and handed out seven of the Wizards 32 assists. Brendan Haywood (11 points, 12 rebounds), Kwame Brown (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Larry Hughes (14 points, six assists) all contributed.

It was a performance that left Wizards coach Doug Collins almost giddy.

"Thirty-two assists and 62 percent shooting," he said. "That means the ball was moving, and we were being very unselfish. This was about as efficient as we have played as a team all year."So efficient that Collins was able to forgive the Wizards for allowing the Grizzlies to shoot 53 percent from the floor.

"Youd like to keep a team under that, but like I said, this was a very good win for us," he said.Pau Gasol led the Grizzlies (7-20) with 25 points, making 10 of 15 shots.

The Wizards had every reason to come in and pummel the upstart Grizzlies. After all, the Grizzlies snapped out of their early season frustration by ending a 13-game losing streak to start the season with an 85-74 thumping of Washington last month. That setback was part of the Wizards six-game losing streak that almost doomed their season.

Since then the Grizzlies have gone from being a bad, young team with good players to a good, young team that has started to turn some heads. The Grizzlies arrived having won five of their last six games, the loss coming against the Dallas Mavericks.

Coming off a game in Atlanta in which they churned out 64 points in the first half, the Wizards started better last night when they erupted for 67 points and shot 64 percent. The Grizzlies never recovered from the onslaught as players bickered with one another over blown defensive assignments.

Jordan scored 18 of the Wizards 32 first-quarter points in his turn-back-the-clock performance, connecting on eight of 11 shots. This got the other players involved, and at one point Washington connected on 17 of 20 shots, including seven baskets in a row.

The Wizards remained just as hot in the second quarter, only this time they didnt have to lean on Jordan as much as they did in the first. Instead, Brown began to manhandle the Grizzlies frontcourt as he scored 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting.

As a result the Wizards were able to stretch what had been a 32-22 lead at the end of the first quarter to a 54-31 advantage on a Stackhouse reverse layup with 4:54 left in the half.Collins gave the Wizards today off. Theyll practice tomorrow and then fly to Texas for Saturdays game with the Spurs and a Monday contest with Dallas.

"These guys want to win and get to the playoffs," Collins said. "Thats why I love being around them."

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