- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 24, 2002

Only Rod Strickland and Alonzo Mourning remained in the visitors' locker room 40 minutes after the game last night when coach Pat Riley strode in looking for any players who weren't on the bus waiting outside MCI Center.
Seeing Strickland, who had just collected 18 points and 14 assists in the Miami Heat's 97-95 defeat of the Washington Wizards, Riley smiled. "You came back to MCI [Center]," he said, "and you sucked 'em in tonight."
Call it what you will, but Strickland had one of his best if not the best games of the season and climaxed it by finding Brian Grant open on the baseline with just seconds remaining.
Grant snapped the 95-95 tie by swishing a 15-foot jumper from the baseline with 1.4 seconds left, and the Wizards failed to get off a good shot on their last possession when Strickland batted away an inbounds pass and Richard Hamilton had a shot blocked under the basket.
Grant's shot spoiled yet another outstanding effort from Michael Jordan, who delivered a game-high 37 points, 11 in the fourth quarter, in an effort to pull his team out of its recent slump.
Instead, the Wizards dropped their sixth of seven as they head to Miami tonight to play the Heat again. They are at .500 (27-27) for the first time since Jan. 29.
The Heat, who have won 17 of 25 to resurrect themselves from a terrible start to the season, couldn't have done it without Strickland, who did his best to torment his former team and its fans. The point guard managed the game admirably for the Heat, though he heard boos nearly every time he touched the ball.
The catcalls waned as Strickland canned every one of his nine field goals while putting up just his third double-digit assist performance and first double-double of the season. His 14 assists were his most since March 16, 2000, when, as a Wizard, he had 16 against the Los Angeles Lakers.
"If I was Rod, I would feel pretty good to go out of here with a win and to have the numbers he did," said Grant, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds. "But he's a team player and has really helped us turn it around."
Said Wizards coach Doug Collins: "I don't think there's any question how good of a point guard he is. He was fabulous."
With 1:59 left and the score tied 91-91, the Heat hounded Jordan and the Wizards into a 24-second shot clock violation. On the next possession, Strickland had a chance to put his team ahead but missed a 10-foot floater.
After the Wizards came up empty, Grant drilled a 16-foot jumper for a 93-91 lead, but Tyronn Lue (13 points) answered to tie it. Jordan fouled Mourning after an offensive rebound to send the former Georgetown Hoya to the free-throw line, where he sank a pair of free throws with 25 seconds left. Jordan hit a jumper over Eddie Jones (team-high 25 points) with 19 seconds left, setting up the final play.
"Take [his play] how you want to take it we won, that's the bottom line," Strickland said. "I've got nothing but love for D.C. The fans were great to me. If they want to boo me now, they can boo me now."
Of course, Jordan carried the Wizards in the fourth quarter, when he scored 11 points. In the closing minutes, the teams matched each other almost shot for shot, though the Heat had more weapons than the Wizards, who featured almost solely Jordan.
"If [the Wizards] ask me to do this every night down the stretch, it will be difficult," Jordan said of the responsibility to take and make shots. "I know we're going to get some contribution from other guys."
The primary "other guy" is Hamilton, who left the game in the first quarter to have the wrap on his previously injured right groin tightened. Hamilton said the groin has been nagging him in recent games, and he will receive treatment on it tomorrow and coming days. He was unsure if he will miss any game action.
The Wizards led 56-50 when Jones scored eight of the Heat's 10 points in a three-minute span (which included a technical foul on Collins) for a 61-59 Miami lead. Among the Wizards' cold shooters in the stretch was Jordan, who missed three straight shots to open the third quarter.
In recent losses (except for Wednesday's loss to Detroit when Jordan didn't play) the Wizards have had few meaningful scoring contributions from players other than Jordan and Hamilton, and that was the case last night. Lue led all scorers with 13, but no other player scored more than six. The Heat, on the other hand, had five players score in double figures.
Before the game, Collins said he didn't want to put any more pressure on the team than it was already feeling and was treating their recent 1-5 slump much as he did when they started 2-9.
"We want to be very positive in everything we do," Collins said. He gave the team Friday off for his players to refocus and regain the mentality they had before the All-Star break, and from the outset last night, the rest looked like it helped the Wizards.
They came out shooting at a torrid pace, 15-for-22 through the first 16 minutes, with Jordan and Lue making their first three field goal attempts and Hamilton making four of his first five. The hot shooting carried the Wizards to a 39-31 lead midway through the second quarter, but the Heat stayed within striking distance behind LaPhonso Ellis, Eddie Jones and Strickland, who combined for 32 first-half points.
The Heat ran Kendall Gill, Jones and Jim Jackson at Jordan but he hardly flinched, hitting six of 11 field goals in the first half on his way to 20 points at the break, when the Wizards led 50-46.

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