- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 9, 2002

Jerry Stackhouse found himself virtually unchallenged and dunked.
With 2.9 seconds to play and the Washington Wizards trailing by one, Bryon Russell inbounded to Stackhouse, who drove the left side and dunked with two-tenths of a second to play to cap off a wild finish and a 100-99 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers at MCI Center.
Robert Horry had drilled a 3-pointer from the left corner with 2.9 seconds to go to put the Lakers up 99-98, but Los Angeles shockingly failed to defend Stackhouse on the inbounds play.
For any opponent that faces the Lakers, the incentive to win is elevated in facing the defending league champions.
For Michael Jordan, there were other factors that got him motivated last night. For one, he faced young gun Kobe Bryant, one of the cadre of current stars that come at Jordan hard, trying to best the game's greatest.
Then there's how Jordan finished last season, bowing out with a two-point performance April 2 in a blowout loss to the Lakers. His ailing knee would not let him continue that game or the rest of the season.
It wasn't easy. Just three nights removed from a massive fourth-quarter collapse against Minnesota, the Wizards blew a 17-point lead they held early in the fourth quarter. Rick Fox cut the lead to one when he made a layup and was fouled by Jordan with 25 seconds to play.
Although they didn't necessarily need a 3-pointer at that time, Brian Shaw jacked one up from long range and missed. But because Jordan made just two of his next four free throws, the Lakers trailed just 98-96 with the ball and 11.9 seconds left.
Despite trailing 82-65 with 9:40 left in the fourth quarter, the Lakers came back on the Wizards, putting together a 10-0 run on the strength of two 3-pointers by Shaw (16 fourth-quarter points) to close a 12-point deficit to 88-86 with 3:45 to go.
The Wizards took care of business against a Shaquille O'Neal-less Lakers team, getting a bulk of their scoring from Jordan, Stackhouse (29 points) and Hughes and enough from their big men to provide some balance to their attack. Maybe the most telling sign that the Lakers sorely missed O'Neal came at the end of the third quarter, when Stackhouse drove baseline and threw down a one-handed dunk.
The Wizards (3-3) head to Cleveland tonight for their fourth game in five nights.
The story of the night was Jordan, who had his patented turnaround jump shot working and was accurate from the floor, going 9-for-13 for the game.
Bryant as he has for every other game this season, all of which O'Neal has missed did his best to provide scoring and necessary offensive leadership, but his 27 points couldn't prevent the Lakers (2-5) from losing their third straight game. Needless to say, Los Angeles eagerly awaits the return of O'Neal, which is expected Tuesday.
Jordan didn't score much (six points) in Wednesday's game against the mediocre Cleveland Cavaliers, but he didn't need to. But the Lakers or maybe more the matchup with Bryant had Jordan's competitive juices flowing as well.
And made sure one of the few times Bryant guarded him one-on-one, he got a shot off. His connected on a turnaround jumper over Bryant with 2:13 left in the second quarter, and added a free throw and another jumper, this time over Rick Fox, in the half's final 1:21. Jordan provided the punch in the Wizards 8-2 run that closed the first half, stretching their lead from three points to 49-40 at the break.
Bryant shot 4-for-12 in the first half for 15 points, but no other Laker scored more than seven.
Hughes drew the first-half chores of guarding Bryant, while the 24-year-old Lakers phenom was matched against Stackhouse. The two waged a mighty battle on the Wizards' end of the court, exchanging elbows and forearms while Stackhouse worked to get position.
Aside from Jordan and Stackhouse, Hughes was clearly the difference-maker for the Wizards. In addition to getting going early, Hughes got his teammates involved in registering five first-half assists. Maybe most importantly, when he was in the game, he guarded Bryant and made the star work for his points.
Note Bryon Russell suffered a cut over his nose and between his eyes during the second quarter that required three stitches. He returned later in the period and started the second half, and threw down a dunk on Samaki Walker after making a steal in the backcourt.


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