- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 5, 2002

Washington Wizards coach Doug Collins arrived at MCI Center last night with a knot in his stomach. Not because Michael Jordan started last night's game needing just 15 points to become only the fourth player in NBA history to score 30,000, but because he knew how much a win over the Chicago Bulls would mean for Jordan.

Well, Jordan got his 30,000th in the first half, and after scoring 29 points to lead the Wizards to an 89-83 victory over the Bulls, it was Jordan's defense in the waning moments of the game that relieved Collins' stomach.

Jordan's most impressive moment of the night, other than joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Karl Malone with the scoring milestone, came with 5:28 left in the first half at the defensive end. With 15.3 seconds left in the game and the Wizards (17-14), having already blown a 26-point lead, clinging to an 87-81 lead, Jordan, who played with a bad sinus condition, blocked a Ron Mercer breakaway layup, pinning the ball against the backboard with both hands.

Fouled at the other end, Chris Whitney sealed the victory with a pair of free throws.

"I don't know where it came from," Collins said of the play. "That is the type of competitor that he is. He was mad. That was an angry play. That is one of those adrenaline plays you get. He was flying.

"And I don't think he knows where it came from because he was out on his feet. I think people thought he was laying in the weeds and not really sick. He was sick. He was very congested. He was in the sauna trying to break that out. But that's just who he is."

Jordan, who scored his 30,000th point at the free throw line after being fouled by Ron Artest with the Wizards leading 43-31, said that winning the game and beating the Bulls, his former team even outweighed reaching his latest milestone.

"It's special in the sense that we're trying to claw our way out of the basement of losing teams, and if we have to step on other people to move up then that's what we'll do," said Jordan, who scored 25 points in the first half. "I'd like to think that we're moving in the right direction; Chicago (6-25) might not be moving in the right direction. I don't want to be compared with that. I want to show some separation and that means moving in the right direction."

Jordan then added: "Thirty thousand points is a lot. That was more or less the highlight of the game. But any time you can beat your former team that's always a plus too."

With the victory the Wizard have now won 12 of their last 14 games. They don't play again until the Los Angeles Clippers come to town Tuesday.

Jordan played 38 minutes in the victory, but it was clear that the sinus infection that he has battled started to wear him down in the second half. After scoring 19 points in the second quarter to help the Wizards forge a 20-point halftime lead, Jordan was just 1-for-9 from the field in the second.

"I was tired. I really didn't have legs in the second half," Jordan said. "Frankly, when we got up in the second I think mentally a lot of us shut it down a little bit because we felt like we controlled the game. But they fought back and you have to give them credit. They forced it to be a game and we limped ourselves to victory."

Jordan got help on this night from some familiar faces. Whitney scored 18 points and handed out eight assists. He was also three of six from behind the 3-point line. Popeye Jones had 10 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Tyrone Nesby came off the bench to score seven points and grab five rebounds, and Brendan Haywood finished with nine points, nine rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.

Mercer led the hapless Bulls they're now 0-17 on the road this season with 25 points, scoring 17 of them in the second half. Charles Oakley had 12 points and 13 rebounds, and Marcus Fizer came off the bench to finish with 13 points and 11 boards.

Even though the Wizards shot better from the field (43.8 percent to 37.5), they came up lame in the second half, scoring just 32 points on 11 of 38 shooting. And they were outscored 24-12 in the fourth quarter, which also positioned them to have their five-game home winning streak ended in front of the 20,674 nervous fans.

But it wasn't enough.

"I just thought it was a tale of two halves," Bulls coach Bill Cartwright said. "I thought we dug ourselves a nice hole in the first half. We really got knocked back on our heels and it took us a half to gather ourselves and go ahead and get after them. Our guys fought back from a huge deficit and actually had an opportunity right there at the end to get back in the game."

Until Jordan and his 30,014 points swooped in and ended their hopes.

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