Wizards 96, Nuggets 73

-- Washington Wizards guard Michael Jordan made his preseason debut tonight, shaking off several months of rust and a pledge not to play in any of Washington's exhibitions. The 39-year-old Jordan scored eight points in 15 minutes in Washington's 96-73 victory over the Denver Nuggets before 10,221 at Pepsi Center.

As is expected to be the case in the regular season, Jordan (3-of-8 shooting) came off the bench in the first half. He started the second half, however, with Charles Oakley, Kwame Brown, Jerry Stackhouse and Larry Hughes -- a group of players Collins said probably will finish games once they matter.

"I moved well," Jordan said. "I don't think I favored anything. Obviously my timing is off. It's going to take some time to adjust."

This was the first time Jordan has played in a game since April 2, when the Wizards lost, 113-93, to the Los Angeles Lakers in Washington. Jordan missed the team's final eight games of last season because of problems stemming from midseason right knee surgery. He did not play in the Wizards' five previous exhibitions but likely will also see time in the team's two remaining preseason games (at Detroit on Wednesday and Friday at Boston).

Jordan was active and spry on defense but he clearly was trying to find his way offensively. Jordan said he was fully aware he would not be up to game speed, which is why he said he had to get in some game action before the Wizards' Oct. 30 season opener against the Raptors in Toronto.

Jordan said his decision to play wasn't financially motivated, even though Denver agreed to pay the Wizards $200,000 if Jordan played, $50,000 if he didn't. A Nuggets' official said the team would try to negotiate a lesser payout since it did not have enough time to advertise Jordan's availability.

Jordan said he simply needed to get some game action to mesh with his new teammates since Collins began setting his regular rotation tonight.

"It was the game plan. I felt like I got work in," Jordan said. "I had a good evaluation how I felt over the course of the game. The things I've done to this point have allowed me to feel good in those 15 minutes."

The Wizards started Hughes (21 points) at point guard, Stackhouse (12 points) at shooting guard, Bryon Russell at small forward, Brown (five points) at power forward and Christian Laettner at center. Laettner (12 points, nine rebounds) replaced Brendan Haywood, who was out with flu.

Jordan came off the bench with 7 minutes 13 seconds left in the second quarter shortly after having personal trainer Tim Grover stretch him out on the baseline for about two minutes. He replaced Hughes and played shooting guard, while Stackhouse shifted to small forward. Tyronn Lue manned the point, Jared Jeffries was at power forward and Etan Thomas played center.

"It's a little adjustment," Stackhouse said when asked about playing for the first time with Jordan. "We've got to keep working through it. When MJ is in there, we're going to do a few things different. That's just the way we're going to play as opposed to playing with other guys. When you score 30,000 points, they've got to cater to you a little bit."

Collins said before the game he wanted Jordan to play with the unit he'll likely be playing with coming off the bench during the season.

Jordan immediately drew double and triple teams, allowing Jeffries to score seven straight points on three uncontested shots, the final pair coming on a thunderous dunk after he drove in from the wing when Denver defenders followed Jordan as he broke above the foul line.

Jordan made his first shot, a 15-foot jumper from the left wing with 4:06 left in the half to extend the Wizards' lead to 45-29. Washington cruised to a 52-38 halftime lead behind 19 points from Hughes.

"I think [Jordan] did fine," Collins said. "Just timing and getting himself into a little bit better shape. He's gotten much stronger the last 10-12 days. This was good."

The players most adversely affected by the shortened rotation were rookie guard Juan Dixon and forward Charles Oakley. Dixon did not play until 5:16 remained in the game, but he made up for lost time by scoring eight points. Oakley played eight minutes

Wizards Notes: Washington exercised the option on Thomas's contract to retain him for a fourth year. . . . Point guard Chris Whitney missed his fourth game in a row with a right hip flexor injury.

Michael Jordan warms up with some behind-the-back wizardry prior to his first action of the exhibition season.Michael Jordan (eight points) slips around former Wizard Juwan Howard to chase down a loose ball.Nuggets forward James Posey flies in the air over the back of Larry Hughes (21 points) as the Wizards guard goes up for a shot in the second quarter.