- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2002

The Washington Wizards had played without Michael Jordan twice before this season, but last night, 20,674 came to MCI Center in part to see just how the Wizards would play while Jordan sits with his knee injury for however long he remains on the sideline.
Against a taller and more talented Portland Trail Blazers team, the Wizards looked almost every bit as entertaining and almost as competitive without Jordan as they did with him. Richard Hamilton scored 31 points, Chris Whitney had 19 and Courtney Alexander and Kwame Brown played some encouraging minutes before Portland pulled out a 105-101 victory.
The Wizards hung with Portland until the final minute when, trailing by 101-97, Popeye Jones had a layup in traffic rim out with 46 seconds left. With Portland ahead 103-101 with 7.2 seconds to go, Alexander was whistled for a questionable foul when it looked as if Scottie Pippen was already falling out of bounds. Pippen then hit two free throws to seal it.
The Wizards (27-29) have lost six in a row and eight of nine and, with victories last night by Philadelphia and Charlotte, now have the ninth-best record in the Eastern Conference.
Portland held a 20-8 advantage on the offensive glass, coming up with crucial second shots after the Wizards had forced missed attempts, and had 20 more second-chance points. The volatile Blazers (33-24) won their seventh straight, with four coming on the road.
"The decisive thing in the game was their rebounds they got a lot of offensive rebounds and putbacks," Whitney said.
After battling Portland evenly through three quarters, the Wizards dug themselves a hole to start the fourth, missing four shots and committing four turnovers in the first 3:17 as the Blazers used a 7-0 run to snap an 83-83 tie that Tyronn Lue had forged with a running 28-foot 3-pointer to end the third quarter. To that point, the Wizards had stayed competitive with Portland and its formidable front line of Dale Davis, Rasheed Wallace and Pippen.
As their first real extended stretch without Jordan began last night, the Wizards figured to struggle primarily putting up points without the NBA's eighth-leading scorer. Actually, however, Portland's height and the Wizards' struggles on the boards made the absences of Jahidi White (left shoulder strain) and Brendan Haywood (sore left knee), who are out with injuries and day-to-day, more glaring. During one stretch that ended the first quarter and began the second, six of seven Portland field goals came in the paint.
Collins said White and Haywood likely would not have fared any better than the Wizards' frontcourt corps last night, but Etan Thomas noticed a difference.
"A lot of times, you have a player like Jahidi that clogs [the middle] up a little bit, but Ruben Patterson [20 points, nine rebounds] was flying in from everywhere," Thomas said.
Jordan's injury made Brown available off the injured list, and the crowd gave him some appreciative applause when he first entered in the second quarter. He finished with six points, including a nice baseline drive on Wallace (22 points, 14 rebounds) and one rebound in 20 minutes in his first action since Feb. 7.
But the Wizards held their own, running a halfcourt offense full of screens and cuts and almost always timing their transition breakouts well. But after shooting 14-for-19 in the first quarter and recording their highest-scoring first half this season with 61 points, the Wizards still trailed by three at the break.
Hamilton took the onus placed on him with Jordan's absence and responded with a purpose, making nine of his first 10 shots. However, he made just one of his last nine attempts and scored just four points in the fourth quarter.
"It's unfortunate Portland made a couple plays in the fourth quarter that we didn't," said Whitney, who had a season-high 11 assists.
Despite the loss, the Wizards still had to be encouraged with their effort. But it's just the beginning of a stretch of games without Jordan.
"I don't know how many games we're going to win, but we're not going to throw up the white flag," coach Doug Collins said.


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