- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

INDIANAPOLIS Sooner or later, the law of averages say that the Washington Wizards will win a basketball game in Indiana.
It happened here last night.
With a shorthanded team, the Wizards exorcised one of their ugliest demons with an 83-78 victory over the Indiana Pacers at Conseco Fieldhouse, ending a string of 12 losses, and won in the Pacers' building for the first time since it was built to start the 1999-2000 season.
"This is a birdie," said Michael Jordan, the Wizards leading scorer with 25 points. "We had a couple of bogies when we lost to Memphis and Chicago. No one expected us to pick this one up here. Like I said, in the last three games we've been playing some sound basketball. We could have easily won three games in a row."
And much of the reason for this is the play of Jordan. Over the last three games Jordan has averaged 32.6 points. Last night against the Pacers he was 11-for-25 from the field.
Late in the game, though, Jordan gave the Wizards a huge scare when he and Reggie Miller banged knees. Jordan had to be helped from the floor. After the game he spent longer than usual on the training table icing down the knee.
Jordan, who is playing his best basketball of the season, said he anticipates he'll be ready to play when Houston and Yao Ming come visiting tomorrow.
"I got kneed in the quad area, not so much the knee," Jordan said. "It's going to be sore for the next day. We'll see how it goes on Thursday. I don't anticipate anything bad happening. Hopefully I can get back out there and we'll just play it by ear."
The Wizards played with a sense of urgency last night, knowing the gravity of the situation and playing to the moment. This was evident because they turned the ball over three times, tying the NBA record for fewest turnovers in a game. The Wizards became the fifth team in history to commit three turnovers in a game, and they are the first team to commit so few errors since the Lakers had three against Houston on Dec. 3, 2001.
All five of the Wizards starters scored in double figures. Christian Laettner and Jerry Stackhouse each finished with 12 points. Brendan Haywood had 11 points and 10 rebounds and Tyronn Lue finished with 18 points and 11 assists.
"I was pleased with our effort," Wizards coach Doug Collins said. "We knew they were shorthanded without [Jamaal] Tinsley and we really tried to take their big men out of the game. I felt that Tyronn Lue played his best game as a pro tonight. He was very tough. Michael played well."
The Wizards played with a lead for most of the night and led by 10 going into the fourth quarter.
But the Pacers rallied behind the play of All-Star forward Jermaine O'Neal and Miller, who combined to score all but four of the Pacers' 22 points in the fourth quarter. The Pacers used a 13-3 run at the start of the quarter to tie the game at 69.
The Pacers went ahead on Miller's 3-pointer with 2:51 to play, but that proved to be a short-lived.
On the Wizards' next possession, Laettner drilled an 18-footer that put the Wizards ahead for good, 75-74.
Leattner's basket was the final field goal of the game for the Wizards, who managed to hang on despite some very shaky free-throw shooting. The Wizards made nine of 16 free throws in the quarter.
Miller led the Pacers with 25 points. O'Neal finished with his 30th double double (16 points, 15 rebounds) of the season.
It was a big victory for the Wizards because they believed they let Sunday's game get away an overtime loss to Dallas. Had they won, the Wizards would be looking at three victories over two division leaders (New Jersey, whom they beat last Friday, and Dallas) as well as a win over an Indiana team that is struggling now but still considered one of the three best teams in the Eastern Conference.
Before the game the Wizards found out that their already enfeebled frontline would be without Etan Thomas, who has a fractured left orbital socket and, depending on the results of further tests, could be out for the rest of the season.
Swingman Bryon Russell has not lived up to expectations this season, and he didn't appear when the Wizards returned for the second half because of a migraine. That reduced the number of healthy Wizards to nine.
Indiana, which has lost five games in a row, seemed sluggish in the first half while Washington was more aggressive. This was highlighted by a play late in the second quarter that didn't result in a basket but seemed to ignite the slumbering crowd.
With just more than three minutes before halftime and with Washington leading 31-29, Juan Dixon exploded toward the basket and tried to dunk on O'Neal. However, O'Neal, who is at least nine inches taller than the 6-1 Dixon, blocked the shot.
Like Washington, the Pacers were not at full strength. Starting point guard Tinsley was excused from the game to be with his ailing mother. Indiana coach Isiah Thomas went with small forward Al Harrington.


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