- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Before last night's game against Cleveland, Washington Wizards coach Doug Collins was asked whether the upcoming break for All-Star weekend came at a good time for his squad.
"Only if we win," Collins said sternly.
Indeed, the Wizards certainly would have set themselves up for a rotten six-day break had they fallen to the lowly Cavaliers, owners of the league's worst record.
The Wizards made sure they didn't let this one get away as they did earlier in the season in losses to Toronto and Memphis by coasting past the Cavaliers 93-84 at MCI Center.
Not that they made it easy. The Wizards allowed Cleveland a team with more talent than its 9-40 record would indicate but that struggles playing as a cohesive unit to hang around throughout the fourth quarter. But the Wizards (24-25) pulled away late, giving themselves the small satisfaction of holding eighth place in the Eastern Conference at the All-Star break, though they have a grueling schedule ahead of them in the last two months, including a trip west next week.
"We'll be sitting in a playoff spot, and that's a good feeling," Collins said. "That's a huge boost for us. We'll have our work cut out for us in the second half. But we'll get Jerry [Stackhouse] back healthy and get a complete team together and see what we can do."
With Stackhouse still out with a pulled groin, Michael Jordan continued to grab his team by its scruff and pull it along. After carrying the Wizards to a victory over New Orleans on Saturday with his 45-point eruption, he registered a game-high 27 points and eight assists last night.
He put up eight points in the fourth quarter, which would have been much closer had Cleveland not gone scoreless from the 5:03 mark until under a minute remained. After Cleveland closed to 82-79 on a Jumaine Jones 3-pointer, Jordan hit a turnaround jumper and Haywood hit a pair of free throws to put Washington up seven with 3:43 left. The Wizards continued to clamp down on Cleveland defensively, and by the time Kwame Brown threw down a dunk on a Jordan pass with 1:04 left, the Wizards were in control with a 10-point lead.
"I was able to move the ball a lot easier in the fourth quarter because everybody was trying to shut me down in the second half," Jordan said. "If we get in a situation where I can be the focus, it's up to me to get other guys involved and move the ball."
Jordan didn't need to do nearly as much last night as he did Saturday, but he set the tone anyway. Jordan came out smoking, scoring or assisting on seven of the first nine Wizards baskets and racking up 11 first-quarter points.
After Bryon Russell, starting for Stackhouse for the second straight game, made a steal and took off for a breakaway dunk, the Wizards led 11-4 and Cleveland had to call a timeout. The Cavaliers came back to trail by just two at the end of the quarter, but they never led after a one-point lead late in the first.
Jordan took more than double the shots of any other Wizard but also filled a playmaking role. On numerous occasions, Jordan worked his way to the basket but, always cognizant of his teammates, zipped passes to other Wizards for open shots.
Russell and Tyronn Lue, who started for Larry Hughes, were often recipients of Jordan's passes, chalking up 13 and 15 points, respectively. Brendan Haywood had 12, and Brown had his third straight double-figure scoring night with 11.
Washington, particularly Russell, shut down Cavaliers leading scorer Ricky Davis, holding him to 3-for-14 shooting from the field and forcing him into six turnovers. Losing starting point guard Smush Parker to an ankle sprain in the first half didn't make things easier for Cleveland.
The Wizards won despite getting outrebounded 50-36 but made up the difference by capitalizing on points off of 22 Cleveland miscues.
The Wizards enter the break at one game under .500 after they were 26-21 at this time last year. Despite the difference, Jordan feels better about this season's team.
"We're better balanced, much better from a roster standpoint than last year," he said. "And physically I feel much better than I did last year. Hopefully it holds up, and getting Jerry back, I think we can start making some headway."

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