- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2003

Just a few Washington Wizards spent substantial time practicing at MCI Center yesterday. Michael Jordan did little court work, opting instead for some stretching and weight lifting, while Charles Oakley spent most of his time on a treadmill. Most of the veterans ducked out of the building around noon, before the ground became completely covered with snow.
Several players needed an easy day.
A thrilling double-overtime defeat of the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night sapped the Wizards especially the veterans, who received most of the crucial late-game minutes. Michael Jordan played 53 minutes, his most as a Wizard, Larry Hughes and Jerry Stackhouse both played 50 and Oakley logged more minutes than he had in the last nine games combined.
The Wizards might be tired, but in winning their fourth game in their last five and drawing to within one game of .500, their spirits continue to rise. Their recent surge started with a huge New Year's Eve victory over San Antonio, and they now are playing some of their best basketball of the season.
With a win tonight at Boston, the Wizards (16-17) can get to .500 for the first time since Nov.22, when they were 6-6. It's just early January, but they are a game back of Orlando for the seventh playoff seed in the Eastern Conference, and building confidence.
"We're definitely trying to make a push we feel we have games there for us," Hughes said. " We're still getting there, still working our way to where teams will fear us. That's basically, when we have that, we have the edge. Right now, we're doing OK. We don't have that edge yet."
As individual performances go, Jordan certainly had an edge to his game Saturday. He had his first 40-point game since going for 45 on Dec.31, 2001, added a season-high 12 rebounds and made a game-altering defensive play with 13 seconds to go in the second overtime. More importantly, he came out of the game, in which he played three minutes short of a career high, without any negative effects.
"I've been feeling great physically," Jordan said Saturday. "I only played 30 minutes in Chicago. This is a testament to what I've been feeling. I've felt a lot better this year than I did last year, I think it showed [Saturday] playing 53 minutes."
Jordan's minutes are always closely monitored, and coach Doug Collins also keeps a close eye on how the frontcourt minutes are distributed. He's faced with a significant decision on almost every game day: Does he go with a more veteran frontcourt or give second-year men Brendan Haywood, Kwame Brown and Etan Thomas heavy minutes?
In recent games, especially the last two, Collins chose wisely. The Wizards' young guns, particularly Brown, tore up the young Bulls on Thursday while Oakley and Christian Laettner were very effective in Saturday's victory. Although Brown and Thomas played only a combined 12 minutes Saturday, Collins said they need to be ready tonight, when they could be getting some significant minutes. Collins figures the younger players will match up better with Celtics like Antoine Walker.
"As a coach, you just have a feel on a particular night whether those young guys are going to be able to play well enough to have you win," Collins said. "I just felt [Saturday] night was one of those games where I had to count on my veterans."
After tonight's game, the Wizards play four straight against sub-.500 teams ample opportunity to pick up some victories they know they should get. After that, the Wizards play four consecutive home games, including Orlando, struggling Philadelphia and woeful Denver. The time is right for the team to hit its stride, and the Wizards know it.
"They're all winnable games if we play well," Collins said. "We struggled early in the year, but we've beaten two very good teams and we're starting to get a good feel."

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