- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 30, 2002

Diehard Washington Wizards fans rattled by the news that Michael Jordan may or may not be back next season could take comfort in the good omen that occurred last night.

One day after pronouncing that there was about as much certainty regarding him playing next season as there is with the typical weather report, Jordan needed just 26 minutes to score 34 points and lead the Wizards to a victory they absolutely had to have, 107-98 over the Milwaukee Bucks before a sellout crowd of 20,674 at MCI Center.

Jordan broke the 30-point barrier for the first time since Feb. 23, when he scorched Miami for 37 points in a losing effort just four days before his arthroscopic knee surgery.

More importantly, the victory moved the Wizards (34-38) back into a tie with idle Toronto and within 1½ games of the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Wizards gained a game by virtue of Orlando's victory over current eighth seed Indiana.

Before the game, Jordan pulled coach Doug Collins aside with a message: "Don't be afraid to put me in, I feel good."

Jordan ignored the firestorm generated in the last few days concerning his possible retirement after this season and focused instead on the job at hand fighting for a playoff berth.

"I don't think it took us away from our objective, which is to get in the eighth playoff spot," Jordan said. "Tonight I felt good. The 26 minutes I played are the most I've played and I felt the best I've felt since coming back."

Jordan was 12 of 22 from the field and connected on 10 of 12 from the free throw line. But he was one of the few Wizards who felt good last night.

Once again the Wizards were forced to play without reserve guard Tyronn Lue, battling a sinus condition and a touch of the flu. And in the second half, they were forced to go without starting center Jahidi White, who played just nine minutes because of a viral infection that has sapped his strength.

Washington also needed Richard Hamilton to step up while ailing. Hamilton aggravated the groin injury that forced him to miss 17 games earlier in the season in the second period but toughed it out to finish with 24 points on 10-for-18 shooting

The Wizards got good efforts from a few others. Courtney Alexander finished with 14 points. Chris Whitney, despite being hampered by foul trouble, finished with nine points and eight assists. Overall, the Wizards' bench outscored Milwaukee's 57-36. The Wizards also outrebounded the Bucks 42-35. Milwaukee committed 17 turnovers resulting in 23 points compared to just 10 for the Wizards resulting in eight points.

"Right on down the line we had a lot of guys play well," Collins said. "We had 28 assists, and that makes me happy. That means we're moving the ball and our offense is crisp. We beat them on the boards, and we took care of the ball. What we did tonight was take advantage of a team that's injured and a team that got frustrated."

Greg Anthony led the Bucks (38-33) with 20 points, but he probably wouldn't have held that honor had Sam Cassell and Glenn Robinson not been ejected. With the loss, they fell to fifth in the East.


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