- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2002

It wasn't long ago when the Washington Wizards would stop what they were doing and stare at Michael Jordan. This presented some problems, considering some of those staring Wizards were supposed to be cutting to the basket for layups.
But in their 109-89 thrashing of the Indiana Pacers on Sunday, it was Jordan who found himself watching the action on the court. Jordan, who turns 39 in the next two weeks, played 41 minutes, a number that would normally have coach Doug Collins pulling his hair out.
But because of the way his teammates played five others scored in double figures, they owned a sizable rebound advantage and made better than 52 percent of their shots Jordan, who scored 11 of his 23 points in the third quarter, actually found time to coast during the game.
"I played 41 minutes and it was an easy 41 minutes," Jordan said. "They were not asking me to go into situations where it would take a lot more energy. I was able to move the ball and find other people. That to me is like resting on the basketball court. When the time comes where they need me, such as the end of the third quarter, I can kind of step it up a notch. It was an easy 41 minutes."
With games against Toronto and Sacramento before the All-Star break this weekend, the Wizards (24-21) appear to have weathered their four-game skid last month against Milwaukee, San Antonio, New Jersey and Minnesota, and once again seem to be in a groove.
They've won five of their last six games, and Richard Hamilton scored 21 points against Indiana in his third game back after missing 17 games with a partially torn right groin. They are 3-0 since Hamilton's return, and they are still without Hubert Davis (flu) and Christian Laettner.
However, others have stepped up in their absence, which is making Jordan's load lighter these days. A win tonight against Toronto would lift the Wizards four games above .500. They haven't been that good 46 games into the season since they were 26-20 on Jan. 27, 1985.
In their 97-90 win over Atlanta last week, reserve center Etan Thomas scored nine points and grabbed 10 rebounds. In that same game, Tyrone Nesby, one year ago better known for hurling expletives at former coach Leonard Hamilton than contributing, added 12 points and four rebounds. Against Indiana, the 6-foot-6 Nesby, playing mostly power forward in a small lineup, had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Center Jahidi White has been much more solid at center this season with rookie Brendan Haywood's emergence as a top first-year player. And with Davis out, Courtney Alexander has raised his level of play and appears to be healthy for the first time this season, scoring 14 and 15 points, respectively, in Washington's last two games.
"When we have other guys doing those kind of things it takes some of the burden off of Michael having to create for everybody on the floor," Collins said. "Obviously it makes us a lot better team and it's going to keep him a whole lot fresher."
The win over the Pacers was certainly a good effort for the Wizards. But there have been other impressive victories as well, including the 98-76 thrashing of Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey at MCI Center. That night Jordan scored 45 points and the Wizards crushed the Nets on the glass (62-30).
Their Dec. 16 game against Toronto at Air Canada Centre also has to rank somewhere near the top. The Wizards fell behind by 19 points in the first half, then held Vince Carter scoreless in the second half and rode Hamilton's 27 points to a 93-88 victory.
However, if Collins were voting, he'd pick Sunday's thrashing as the high-water mark for the Wizards thus far.
"Yes, I would agree with that," Collins said. "I couldn't believe that we scored 109 points. Normally we bleed to get 92. But I thought we executed well; we took good shots. We moved the ball well. We didn't get the clock working against us that much where we had to take some tough shots. All that led into Indiana not being able to run us out of the gym like they did the first two times they played us."
Hamilton said it's really not necessary to rate the quality of wins, at least not yet. What is important is that the team's newfound confidence nonexistent for years continues to be cultivated.
"We're turning into a confident team. We're coming to games saying, 'We're going to win this game,'" Hamilton said. "We're not just trying to keep it close. When we come to games our mentality is that we're going to win this game."

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