- The Washington Times - Friday, December 20, 2002

With 63 points in his last two games, Michael Jordan still can score with the best. But the Washington Wizards still don't know what to expect from their 39-year-old superstar game to game.
Although it was big news that Jordan was held to just two points (matching his career low) in Sunday's victory against Toronto, Wizards coach Doug Collins said the team is learning that Jordan does not have to be a scoring machine for it to be successful.
"If we have to rely on him to do that at this stage of his career, we're in trouble," Collins said. "When he's not scoring, he just becomes a director like he did in Toronto, where he scored just two points and it wasn't the end of the world for America."
A year ago, in the last week of December, Jordan scored 51 and 45 points in consecutive games against Charlotte and New Jersey, these performances coming after a then-career low six at Indiana.
Jordan, who is averaging 17.5 points this year, is confident he still can go for 40, even though he rarely if ever considers that these days.
"You never know on any night," Jordan said. "I still think I can, but I'd rather create a focus where I can get some other people open when the defense is focusing on me. It may come."
Whether it does or not, the Wizards know that in Jordan they have perhaps the best basketball mind of all time on the court and that compensates for what he no longer gives them at the offensive end.
In the last two games Jordan has been at his best, scoring 30 and 33 points and making 26 of 41 shots to lead the Wizards over Atlanta and Memphis. However, in the team's win over Toronto, he was 1-for-9 from the floor but compensated with nine assists and eight rebounds.
Clearly, the Wizards prefer Jordan on the nights when he gets it rolling like he did Wednesday night against Memphis. Jordan scored 18 in the first quarter and had 23 by the half. As a result the Wizards were as dangerous offensively as they have been at any point in the season, posting season highs in points (118), field goal percentage (61.8), and assists (32).
"When he comes out and scores like that in the first half, the whole focus in the other locker room becomes stop M.J., or stop [Jerry] Stackhouse," Kwame Brown said after a 14-point, 10-rebound outing against Atlanta. "If they come out scoring, we're wide open in the paint. One time I was so open, I lost the ball because I couldn't believe it."
Stackhouse, the team's leading scorer (21.9), said he sensed Jordan's shooting was off against Toronto but that Jordan was looking to get other players involved. As a result, Stackhouse scored 28 points, his highest output in 10 games.
"He did other things to get the guys involved," Stackhouse said. "You have to look at those contributions. The next two games, he came out and scored for us. The key is, he does what he knows we need. He came out against Memphis and I think he recognized that we could have a letdown game after the win on the road at Atlanta. He got us going, and from there we were able to secure the win."
While the Wizards are relatively giddy over their current three-game winning streak, Jordan knows the victories came against teams with a combined 25-50 record through Wednesday. Their next two games are stiff road tests against San Antonio and reigning league MVP Tim Duncan tomorrow and 22-3 Dallas on Monday.
"We've taken care of business against the teams that we feel we should beat," Jordan said. "Obviously, when we play against teams with better records, we've got to play smarter basketball."

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