- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2003

As the Washington Wizards slipped into overtime last night against the Houston Rockets, their roster depleted by injuries, a certain serenity slipped over the face of Michael Jordan.

Perhaps he knew it was highly unlikely that he would miss another late-game jumper in overtime and cost the Wizards a game, as he did last weekend against Dallas.

This time Jordan was his usual self when it counted most, scoring the Wizards' first 10 points in overtime as they defeated Houston 100-98.

Jordan finished with a game-high 35 points on 15 of 26 shooting. However, in the overtime, when he toyed with reserve guard Joaquin Hawkins, Jordan was 5-for-6 from the floor and was responsible for all but one basket a decisive running 22-footer by Jerry Stackhouse that proved to be the difference.

All this from a 40-year-old player who was listed as questionable before the game because of a severely bruised thigh that made him a game-time decision.

"Our guys want to make the playoffs," Wizards coach Doug Collins said, despite the fact the Wizards blew a 24-point lead and were outscored 30-14 in the fourth quarter. "I don't know how many guys would have played with what Michael had tonight. When I saw it this morning, it was totally puffed up, but he played 50 minutes. When you have a guy like that setting the tone for your team, that is where you get resilience."

The victory lifts the Wizards' record to 28-29. Houston fell to 30-28.

Jordan, who also had 11 rebounds and six assists, acknowledged the pain he was in. However, that was secondary to getting a win that will be vital to the Wizards as they head to the homestretch in the playoff race.

"I felt like 85 percent even though I was getting good looks and making good shots," Jordan said. "I was trying not to overdo it. In the fourth quarter, the way the game was going, I overdid it. And my leg got a little exhausted. In overtime, it was more or less just gut just gut it out. But if we had to go to another overtime, it would have been tough."

Said Stackhouse, who drilled the decisive bucket over Cuttino Mobley: "This is fun. To be able to go into a game like that, on national television, and play like that. They had a lot of pride. They were going to come back, and for us to keep our poise when they came back really strong and to get this win in overtime, I love being able to put us up. And I know Mike feels the same way. But we don't want to play like this every night. We would have rather have coasted to this win, but we'll take it."

The victory was the Wizards' fourth in their last five games. And In that stretch they have beaten teams like New Jersey, Indiana (on the road) and now a Houston team that is still very much in contention for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

However, all the news coming out of Washington, where the Wizards pulled even with inactive Milwaukee for the eighth Eastern Conference playoff spot, was not good. The Wizards lost point guard Tyronn Lue with a separated left shoulder that could keep him out of action for 10 days.

Lue said he would try to make it back by early next week and appeared to be relatively pain-free after being helped from the court late in the fourth quarter after a collision left him sprawled on the floor.

The Wizards will look to sign a player to a 10-day contract, perhaps as soon as today. One likely candidate is former Wizard Chris Whitney, who was waived by Denver earlier this week. Whitney will clear waivers this morning.

One team source said the Wizards also might pursue a player in the developmental league, perhaps Tierre Brown of the North Charleston Lowgators.

Christian Laettner finished just two assists and two rebounds shy of what would have been his first career triple double (10 points , eight assists, eight rebounds). Lue finished with 12 points, making all but one of his seven shots. And Brendan Haywood was held scoreless but blocked a season-high five shots.

Mobley led the Rockets with 24 points. Taylor, who scored 15 in the fourth quarter, added 23. Yao Ming finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Francis finished with eight points and shot 1-for-13 from the field.

Injuries cut the Wizards' list of available players to 11, but Collins used just seven all night. The only reserves to see any action were Charles Oakley and Juan Dixon.

Although he was cheered by a large contingency of fans every time he did something, for the most part the 7-foot-5 Yao simply looked taller than everybody else. In fact, the play that seemingly generated the most excitement of the night was a rather embarrassing moment for the top pick in the draft.

With the Wizards leading by 22 points early in the third quarter, Yao attempted a short jumper in the lane. However, as the ball left his hands, Haywood rose up higher and rejected his shot. The ball wound up in Lue's hands, and the play at the other end ended with an alley-oop from Lue to Stackhouse.

Yao got a measure of revenge later in the quarter when his one-handed, barely leaping dunk over Haywood knocked the Wizards' lead down to 67-49. And not long thereafter he showed the skills that everyone else around the league is marveling over when his hook shot floated through the net.

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