- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2002

The people who suggested that Michael Jordan would tarnish his legacy if he came out of retirement owe him an apology.

Better yet, don't let them enjoy the magic that's going on at MCI Center, all of it compliments of this supposedly aching, creaking, ego-maniacal legend whose time had apparently come and gone.

Last night Jordan made believers out of the Atlantic Division leading New Jersey Nets, scoring 45 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and handing out seven assists in a 98-76 victory.

"Before he used to just beat you with sheer will, skill, energy," Wizards coach Doug Collins said. "Now he slices you just like a surgeon. And he's got a clock in his head. I've always said the older you get the easier the game comes to you. It's unfortunate that your legs get older. But with Michael he has used that brilliant mind of his and now he just plays and does what he needs on any particular night."

Said Jordan: "I think my legs are coming back. I'm back in the weight room and I'm getting treatment every day. This is how I was playing all summer before I broke my ribs and kind of got off rhythm for a little bit. If I can keep that tendinitis away I'm pretty sure you're going to see that same type of game."

And this came against Jason Kidd, the leading candidate for MVP, Kenyon Martin, Keith Van Horn and a Nets team that has been one of the most consistent teams this season. It was the worst loss of the season for the Nets.

During one stretch bridging the second and third quarters, Jordan scored 22 consecutive points, falling one shy of his league-record 23, which he scored against the Atlanta Hawks on April 16, 1987.

This onslaught was triggered when Martin told Jordan he had a back problem.

"I don't think you want to tell me that," Jordan joked.

Last night's performance comes on the heels of his season-high 51-point effort against Charlotte and gives him 96 points over the last two games. Jordan needs just 15 points against his old team, the Chicago Bulls, here on Friday to reach 30,000 for his career. Only three other players, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone, still active with the Utah Jazz, have ever reached this plateau.

Said Jordan: "I've got a sinus cold but I'm definitely looking forward to Chicago."

The victory also completes one of the best Decembers in the franchise's history. The Wizards finished the month 11-4, which matches the best December in the franchise's history. The Baltimore Bullets went 11-4 in December of 1968. Washington's victory improves its record to 16-14. The loss ended New Jersey's three-game winning streak and dropped it to 19-10.

Jordan checked out of the game with 2:52 to play and the Wizards leading 94-73. When the team returned to the court it seemed that few in sold-out (20,674) MCI Center even noticed.

Jordan received help from his teammates. Three other Wizards led by Popeye Jones' 14 finished with double-figures in rebounding. This allowed the Wizards to dominate the boards by a staggering 62-30.

Guard Chris Whitney added 12 points and Hubert Davis finished with 10.

Martin and Keith Van Horn led the Nets with 16 points each. Kerry Kittles had 14 and Kidd had 10 points, 11 assists and six rebounds.

During Jordan's playing days in Chicago, a number of his teammates said they became better players just because of his presence. His prodigious skills cultivated their confidence and helped make them more sure of themselves.

This was true last night.

Washington took a 74-62 lead after three quarters and Jordan sat out the first 2:51 of the fourth quarter. Instead of allowing the Atlantic Division leaders back into the game, Washington increased its lead with its leader on the bench and led by 80-65 when Jordan returned. And in the final seven minutes of the game the lead was never less than 15 points.

Jordan led the Wizards with nine points in the first quarter, but the team's overall shooting left much to be desired they shot just 30 percent from the field. New Jersey, on the other hand, shot a shade below 59 percent.

This crisp shooting enabled the Nets to establish a rhythm against the Wizards. Leading 14-13, New Jersey used a 9-1 run to take its biggest lead of the half, 23-14, with 1:50 left in the quarter.

The Wizards got the lead down to 25-19 by the end of the quarter, setting the stage for another quarter of Jordan dominance.

Jordan had nine points in the first quarter when he was mostly guarded by the 6-9 Martin. But for some strange reason New Jersey coach Byron Scott put rookie forward Richard Jefferson on Jordan in the second quarter.

Not a good move.

Jordan, who scored 34 points in the first half of the Wizards' victory over Charlotte, had his way with the befuddled rookie. He made six of 10 shots in the quarter and scored 14 points to bring his total to 23.

Jordan was particularly lethal in the final 1:55 of the half.

With the Wizards trailing 36-34, Jordan outscored the Nets 10-4 to secure a 44-41 lead by halftime.

The third quarter offered more of the same. Jordan, with Martin now back on him, opened the half by scoring the Wizards' first 12 giving him 22 straight points to give the Wizards a 56-43 lead


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