- The Washington Times - Friday, January 25, 2002

In recent games, putting back-to-back solid halves together has been a problem for Michael Jordan. In the two games before last night, Jordan was an ugly 3-for-23 in the second half of losses, prompting some questions whether the prolonged minutes he has played lately have taken their toll.

Throw that theory out the window. Looking young and spry against a bad Cleveland team, Jordan scored 16 of his game-high 40 points in the second half as the Washington Wizards handed the Cavaliers their 11th consecutive loss 94-85 before 20,640 last night at MCI Center.

"I've been hearing that everybody is talking about me being tired in the second half, and I don't think that," Jordan said. "Physically, I feel good. I just think that we've played against some veteran teams that have made some adjustments and taken me out of some scoring situations and forced other players to step forward. Tonight they didn't make adjustments at halftime, and other players stepped forward."

The victory, just the Wizards' second in eight games, hoisted their record back to .500 (20-20) although they learned before the game that they would be without Christian Laettner, who went on the injured list with a bruised right thigh. But that mattered little because the Wizards got crucial help from some of their young frontcourt players.

Rookie center Brendan Haywood scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds. In 15 meaningful minutes, Etan Thomas was 3-for-4 from the floor, scored seven points and grabbed three rebounds. And Tyrone Nesby made a valuable contribution, finishing with six points and seven rebounds.

Chris Whitney scored 15 for the Wizards and tied Tracy Murray's franchise career record for 3-pointers with 411.

"We had so many guys do a great job tonight," coach Doug Collins said. "That's what we want. Our guys recognized the importance of this [game], and they were going to do whatever it took."

Mostly, it required the Wizards to step up and defend better in the second half, and it was a challenge they answered.

Cleveland shot 54 percent against the Wizards in the first half. However, the Cavaliers never led by more than five points before intermission.

The Wizards clamped down on them completely after halftime, holding them to 11-for-36 from the floor (30.6 percent) and limiting them to 35 points in the second half.

Wesley Person, who scored three points after the first quarter, led the Cavaliers (13-29) with 19 points. Point guard Andre Miller had 11 points and 12 rebounds.

Jordan also added eight rebounds and played a turnover-free game. Collins said it was his fault that Jordan struggled in the second halves of recent games.

"I'm going to take the blame for Michael's last two second halves," Collins said. "I knew what they were doing, and I was telling him. But I didn't give him any help. So I went home after the last game and tried to figure a way so that Michael would have some freedom so they can't do that. We showed it on tape, and I thought we made some nice adjustments. I think it freed him up a lot."

The last time the teams met the Cavaliers beat the Wizards by 19 points and dropped their record to 3-10. That game prompted Jordan to proclaim that the Wizards stunk. But the embarrassment from that loss also helped propel the Wizards to victories in 11 of their next 13 games.

Under new coach John Lucas, the one-time University of Maryland all-American, Cleveland's season has gone particularly sour in the last three weeks. The Cavaliers were 13-19 on Jan. 4 and still relatively involved in the playoff hunt before injuries to players like Lamond Murray and Michael Doleac, Since then, the season has come apart.

Jordan, as he has done in recent games, caught fire in the first half. In the first quarter, which ended with the Wizards trailing 28-23, Jordan and Person got into a shootout.

Jordan, relying mostly on his midrange jumper, at one point scored 14 points in a row. Person was even hotter, sinking eight of nine shots in the quarter to match Jordan with 16 points.

While Person cooled off he was scoreless in the second quarter Jordan remained hot, adding eight more points to give him 24 at the half.

However, Jordan's hot shooting, 11-for-15 from the field, was not enough to give Washington a halftime lead. The rest of the team was 9-for 28 from the floor.

Washington wasted no time erasing the Cavaliers' lead in the third. Sparked by Jahidi White's block of an attempted dunk by Cleveland forward Brian Skinner, the Wizards raced out to a 61-54 lead on the strength of a 15-6 run.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide