Originally created 12/31/01

Jordan: 'I can still play this game'



WASHINGTON -- After a few weeks of describing his comeback as part of a plan to turn the Washington Wizards into a winning franchise, Michael Jordan reminded everyone that it's also about Michael Jordan.

A six-point game tarnish his legacy? No way. He came back to throw down 51 Saturday night against the Charlotte Hornets.

"I had the six-point game," Jordan said. "And I knew with that game, that poor outcome, people were going to say, 'Well, maybe it wasn't a great idea.' And now I'm sure they're going to say less - and understand that I can still play this game at 38."

Jordan felt he had to make a statement on two fronts: that his career-low performance against Indiana last week wasn't a sign that he's washed up, and that the Wizards' two-game losing streak wasn't the start of another long skid.

He delivered on both counts. The Wizards won 107-90, avenging a loss in Charlotte three days earlier.

"Everybody's anticipating three, maybe four losses in a row," Jordan said. "So taking the leadership was important."

Jordan made 21 of 38 shots from the field, 9 of 10 free throws and had seven rebounds and four assists in 38 minutes in his 39th regular-season 50-point game. Sunday morning he was up Sunday morning for a workout with his trainer before an afternoon practice ahead of Monday's game with the first-place New Jersey Nets.

"I go into tomorrow's game knowing that I've found my shot, I've found my rhythm, and hopefully when asked, I can perform," Jordan said. "I don't think I can do (50 points) every night, but I think I can be a threat and a force out there for 38 minutes."

Jordan resumed his daily workouts a few days ago after suspending them for three weeks because of his sore knee.

"I feel a lot better," Jordan said. "My knee's getting better."

Jordan scored the Wizards' first 13 points against the Hornets, giving coach Doug Collins worry and delight at the same time. For a while, it seemed Jordan would score 70 - and that Washington would lose.

"I was scared to death," Collins said. "I said 'Guys, I'm afraid that come the fourth quarter there's not going to be anything in the tank.' We're going to be saying, 'Who's going to score for us?' But thank God that didn't happen."

Jordan was scoring at will, fighting through screens for jumpers and blowing past defenders. But he was the entire offense for more than a quarter, and there was no defense at the other end.

Jordan had 24 in the first quarter, but the Wizards led by just one point, 29-28. Collins had broken his usual substitution pattern and played Jordan the entire 12 minutes.

"When he's on a roll like that, you just ride it," Collins said. "You don't start getting cute, start running plays for other people. That's when you coach yourself right out of here."

Finally, Hubert Davis started to chip in, hitting four 3-pointers in the second quarter. Davis (14) and Jordan (34) had 48 points as the Wizards took a 56-51 halftime lead.

"If I score 34 points at the half, I'd like to see us up by 10 or 12," Jordan said.

The Wizards, who have been playing without injured starters Christian Laettner and Richard Hamilton, finally gave Jordan the help he needed in the third quarter. Solid defense in a 13-0 run led by Davis, Chris Whitney, Jahidi White and Popeye Jones - with no points from Jordan - put the Wizards in control.

"One night, here or there, you're going to ride greatness," Collins said. "Any coach would be stupid not to be do that. But last night, we still have to have 12 (points) and 12 (rebounds) from Jahidi. Popeye eight and nine. Hubert put in 21. We had guys that fit and did other things. Even though Michael had 51, it was a team effort helping us win."

The crowd at the MCI Center went wild when Jordan broke the 50-point barrier with a move in traffic in the paint in the fourth quarter. He came out shortly afterward, but he said it wasn't because of the 50 milestone.

"I was going to go for 60," Jordan said. "But when Doug called off the dogs, I came out. I didn't have a conscious effort of how many points I was going to go for, I just felt I haven't been in a rhythm like this for some time."