- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 9, 2003

Michael Jordan was ailing and Jerry Stackhouse was having an off night, so the Washington Wizards had to look elsewhere to beat the feisty Chicago Bulls.
They didn't have to look far.
Larry Hughes led six players in double figures with 22 points and the Wizards rebounded from a miserable first half to win their season-high fifth game in a row, 101-98 at a sold-out MCI Center last night.
"We're starting to get the pieces that we need to do what we need to get done," Wizards coach Doug Collins said. "As a coach it takes time to figure out what your guys can do, and who you can blend and play with each other. It just doesn't happen overnight."
It doesn't but it is starting to be more of a regular occurrence with the Wizards.
They found out at the shootaround earlier in the day that Jordan was ailing with a virus he had to leave the session early and they had an idea that others would have to step up in his place. However, they probably didn't count on Stackhouse, fresh off a 37-point barrage at Boston, to struggle the way he did.
But in the end it didn't matter The Wizards used a 36-point third quarter that resulted in a 20-point swing to guarantee the win.
Hughes' baseline jumper with 18.4 seconds left in the game gave the Wizards a 97-94 lead and helped seal the win to push the Wizards (18-17) above .500 for the first time since Nov. 23.
Christian Laettner had his best game of the season, posting 18 points and 11 rebounds. Kwame Brown finished with 16 points all in the first half and grabbed eight rebounds. Etan Thomas scored all of his 11 points in the first half.
Donyell Marshall led the Bulls with 25 points and nine rebounds. Jamal Crawford and Eddy Curry came off the bench to score 15 apiece for the Bulls.
The Wizards broke the 100-point barrier for the fifth game in a row, and now stand 13-0 when they score 100 points or more.
However, the Wizards believe that they have gotten better offensively because their defense is now that much better.
"You get some stops and force some turnovers and you get a few more possessions," said Stackhouse. "The offense starts with the defense picking up. That's what we're doing. That was the case in the third quarter."
Trailing 67-60 following a pair of free throws from Marshall with 6:43 left in the third quarter, the Wizards suddenly struck fire. Washington, which got 10 points apiece from Jordan and Hughes, closed the third on a 24-6 run that took them from 11 points down at the half to an 84-73 lead going into the fourth.
The Wizards shot a scintillating 72.2 percent from the floor in the quarter, and that was too much for the Bulls. Confident and sure of themselves just one quarter earlier, the Bulls were reduced to making six of 21 shots in the quarter, and turned the ball over five times.
Collins said the ailing Jordan, who finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds in spite of heavy congestion, was the catalyst to Washington's success in the third. Both Jordan and Hughes scored 10 points in the quarter.
"He came out sluggishly and our whole team came out sluggishly," Collins said. "He is our barometer. Instead of us picking him up he picked us up in the third quarter."
Said Jordan: "When you're feeling bad you try to figure out what you can get by with. In the first half I really didn't have the energy to ignite anything. In the third quarter I think I just shot [a lot better]."
He needed to because the first half was not kind to the Wizards. The Bulls scored 59 points in the first half the most any opponent has scored this season and the Wizards looked like they were ready to lose to a bad team that no doubt was still smarting from the 25-point thrashing Washington laid on them last week.
Washington made six field goals in the quarter and shot 28.6 percent from the floor. This resulted in the Bulls outscoring the Wizards 32-22 in the quarter, good enough for an 11-point lead at the break.
Just as the Bulls were dominant in the second quarter, Washington ruled the third when they outscored the Bulls 36-14.
"That's where we lost this game tonight," Bulls coach Bill Cartwright said. "We played great in the first half. I don't know who that team was out there in the third."
The Bulls still had one last run left in them, and they wasted no time getting back in the game. It started with a 9-0 run that pulled the Bulls to within 84-82, made easier by the fact that the Wizards did not score a basket until Tyronn Lue hit a 3-pointer with 8:32 left in the game.
This was part of a 17-7 Chicago run that eventually shaved the Wizards' lead to 91-90 with 3:30 left.

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