- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2002

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. For the first time all season, the New Jersey Nets played before a sellout crowd at home, and the end result was perhaps one of the least competitive games ever played in the Jersey marshland.

The New Jersey Nets' 111-67 victory over the Washington Wizards was so utterly complete the Nets led by 41 points in the second quarter that a good portion of the Continental Airlines Arena crowd of 20,049 did not return for the second half.

That was just as well. Most of them came to see Michael Jordan play, which he did for 18 minutes of the first half. But with the Wizards down by 39 points at halftime, who could blame coach Doug Collins for keeping Jordan on the bench for the entire second half? The loss was the worst the franchise has suffered since losing to these same Nets by 45 points on Jan. 9, 1993.

"I feared this coming in here tonight," Collins said. "Our guys played so hard last night. With our injuries, we just don't have anybody who can come in and give us any energy. I knew our guys were exhausted. We had a tired team. They were great, and we were awful."

Jordan finished with 10 points and shot 4-for-14 from the field in 18 minutes. And as he prepares to return to Chicago on Saturday to face his old team, Jordan is in a 9-for-35 shooting slump.

Bobby Simmons led the Wizards with 12 points as Washington made just 27 of 90 field goal attempts (30 percent).

With just over two minutes left in the third quarter and the lead at 35 points, some of New Jersey's better hecklers seated behind the Nets basket starting calling for Jordan, many of them indicating that he was the only reason they had showed up.

"It didn't serve a purpose other than for them to see me out there playing, and I appreciate that," Jordan said. "That's just one of those circumstances I didn't really have control over. Doug didn't feel it was appropriate for me to play. We didn't have a good outing. It's kind of embarrassing when you're down by 30. … I think Doug made a good call."

Keith Van Horn led the Nets with 27 points, shooting 9-for-13 in the 24 minutes he played. Point guard Jason Kidd, who is receiving a lot of attention for league MVP as the season approaches the midway point, played just 27 minutes before checking out with a double-double (11 points, 12 assists).

The Wizards never recovered from a phenomenal first quarter in which the Nets made their first 13 field goals and shot a blistering 85.7 percent (18-for-21) from the field. The 43 points were the most points scored in the first quarter of any game this season, and only the 90.9 percent shot by the Seattle Supersonics on Dec. 21 represents a better shooting performance in any one quarter this season. Before it ended the lead had already reached 27 points.

"When you do that you dig yourself a hole that you're going to be fighting trying to get back from all night long," Popeye Jones said. "We just didn't have that fight in us to fight back tonight for some reason. We'll be ready on Saturday. We'll regroup. We have a lot of heart in here. We won't splinter. We didn't when we went through the nine-game losing streak, and we'll stay together now."

For the Atlantic Division-leading Nets (26-11), the victory had to be somewhat cathartic, considering the results of the New Year's Eve meeting between the teams at MCI Center. That night the Wizards manhandled the Nets on the boards, outrebounding them 62-30 and handing them their biggest defeat of the season (98-76).

"I'm pretty sure they probably thought they had an awful night when we beat them on the 31st at home," Jordan said. "I don't think that we played up to our capabilities. You can throw a lot of excuses and a lot of reasons out there. But obviously they're a good team. They've got the best record in the Eastern Conference and they're very deserving of it."

In their fourth loss in a row, the Wizards' defense again was invisible. In three of the four losses, the opposition has posted at least 60 points in the first half, and three of the teams have scored at least 100 points or more.

The Nets made their first 13 shots from the floor before Todd MacCulloch missed a putback with 4:21 left and the Nets up 31-10. New Jersey shot 18-for-21 in the quarter, an insane 85.7 percentage.

Van Horn was the biggest benefactor of the offensive explosion that was pulling the fans to their feet long before the first half mercifully drew to an end with the Nets leading 72-33.

Van Horn was 6-for-8 from the floor, including 3-for-4 from behind the 3-point line for 17 points in the first quarter. He played just four minutes in the second quarter and had 22 points by intermission.

The raw numbers of the first half were staggering by themselves. New Jersey's 43 points in the first quarter were the most scored against the Wizards in any quarter this season, just as were the 72 points the most they have allowed in a half.

The Nets moved the ball around perhaps as well as any team has against the Wizards, handing out a single-half record 25 assists.

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