- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 13, 2002

Michael Jordan knew that beating the Minnesota Timberwolves last night would provide an infusion of confidence for a Washington Wizards team that has held up admirably in recent games considering two starters are injured.
The Minnesota game was the second of back-to-back games against NBA division leaders and defeating the Timberwolves would cement Washington's status as a formidable presence in the Eastern Conference.
Jordan more than did his share in scoring a game-high 35 points and got great contributions from his teammates. But Kevin Garnett and Chauncey Billups combined for 60 points as Minnesota took a 108-100 victory, its eighth straight, at sold-out MCI Center.
The Wizards trailed throughout before closing the gap to one point at the end of the third quarter. But the Timberwolves regained their composure, rebuilt their lead and the Wizards who are eagerly awaiting the returns of Richard Hamilton and Christian Laettner from injuries could never push past them, falling to 0-10 on the season when surrendering 100 points or more.
"It was a measuring stick," said Jordan, who played 40 minutes. "The energy was pretty high tonight. I thought we missed a great opportunity at the end of the third quarter, and [Garnett] was really tough down the stretch."
The Wizards got outstanding efforts from Jordan, Tyronn Lue (15 points, eight assists) and Jahidi White (22 points, 13 rebounds). But Midwest Division leader Minnesota (27-9) answered with Garnett (31 points) and a supporting cast headed by Billups and Wally Szczerbiak.
Even before the game, Wizards coach Doug Collins gushed about Minnesota, saying the Timberwolves would be the toughest team his squad had faced all season. Minnesota, which handed the Los Angeles Lakers their worst loss of the season Friday night, looked just that while winning on the road against Washington for the first time since Dec. 17, 1994.
First, Billups took the stage, dazzling the crowd with a brilliant shooting display in the first quarter. He knocked down four of six 3-pointers in the quarter and scored 19 of his team's 21 points at one juncture. Billups mainly took advantage of Chris Whitney's defense but hit shots over Lue and Hubert Davis as well on the way to a season-high 29 points.
Lue wanted to play well against Billups, since the two are best of friends. Lue was the best man in Billups' wedding and is the godfather of his daughter.
"I think I came out aggressively and offensive minded, like coach wanted me to," Lue said.
But, said Collins, "we never got a handle on them where we got them stopped. Billups was awesome tonight."
Of course, Jordan would not allow himself to be outdone. He got going in the middle of the second quarter, using quickness to zip past the 6-11 Garnett, who guarded Jordan a large part of the time.
Jordan scored the Wizards' last 10 points and 14 of their last 16 to keep the home team close. Jordan had 26 points in the first half on 10-for-17 shooting from the floor.
But Garnett had the last laugh of the opening 24 minutes, nailing a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left and then pounding his right fist into his hand while glaring at Jordan, and capped the half with another 3-pointer although he received the ball with just six-tenths of a second on the clock.
"He didn't give up," Jordan said.
The Wizards caught up in the third quarter as Minnesota recorded just one field goal in the last 4:49. The Wizards closed a 10-point deficit to one when Lue canned three free throws to make it 75-74, but the Timberwolves pushed the lead back to five at quarter's end.
Then Minnesota's role players got into the act, as Anthony Peeler, Sam Mitchell and Rasho Nesterovic combined for 11 points and a 90-79 lead. Szczerbiak's 3-pointer pushed the Timberwolves' margin to 95-82, which proved insurmountable.
"It seemed whenever we got close, they hit two or three shots to push us away," Collins said.
Szczerbiak, who had 16 points, switched to guard Jordan midway through the third quarter, and from that point Jordan managed just seven points (two field goals with Szczerbiak on him).

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