Wizards 109, Hawks 99
-- In his previous game, Michael Jordan tied his career low with two points, saying he opted to help the Wizards win by sharing the ball. Tonight, Jordan tried his more conventional approach to obtaining a victory -- shouldering the scoring burden.
The 39-year-old guard hit from outside and in, finishing with a season-high 30 points in leading Washington to a 109-99 victory over the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena.
He started by hitting his first two shots and finished making 12 of 18 in pulling the Wizards (11-13) to their second straight win, in a game short on defense. Jordan, who had two assists (compared with the nine he had in Sunday's win in Toronto), checked out with 13 seconds left to a standing ovation.
"I don't want anybody to think I can't score," Jordan said jokingly. "I can go nights if we win and I score two and I'm happy. Tonight, I got into a great rhythm and scored 30. Don't ever underestimate my scoring. I can score the basketball."
Though early in the season, the game bore importance because the Wizards and Hawks, along with Milwaukee, have begun to look like the three main contenders for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. With all three of those teams seeking to establish themselves, they could be jockeying for one of the lower playoff seeds all season.
"I thought Washington had their way tonight, but we'll see those guys again," said Hawks forward Glenn Robinson, who scored a game-high 33 points.
Jerry Stackhouse complemented Jordan with 23 points, and guard Larry Hughes added 20 points and eight rebounds. It was the second time this season, the first coming at home against the New York Knicks, that each of Washington's starting perimeter players scored 20 points or more. Center Brendan Haywood had another strong game, scoring 11 points, grabbing 8 rebounds and blocking 3 shots.
The Wizards controlled the flow of the game almost throughout but could not establish much of a defensive presence until late in the fourth quarter, when the Hawks made just four field goals. Collins pleaded with his team not to get into a prolonged shooting match, but with the way the top scorers were performing, there was little either team could do to slow the tempo.
After the Hawks trimmed a 19-point deficit to five late in the third, the game grew tense, with both teams making mistakes and big plays at crucial junctures.
Atlanta pulled to 89-86 on guard Jason Terry's jumper but Washington countered with a 6-0 run, started by a baseline jumper from Charles Oakley. The Wizards capped the surge with a spectacular reverse layup by Stackhouse, who blew by Robinson, drove the left baseline, then avoided Theo Ratliff (12 points, 11 rebounds) to sneak under the rim for the basket.
Oakley once again provided a late-game spark, saving a missed shot and delivering a high-speed assist to Jordan, whose layup put the Wizards up 100-89 with 31/2 minutes left. The Hawks pulled to 100-95 after their defensive pressure resulted in two steals and four points, but Jordan stemmed the run with arguably his most spectacular basket of the season.
After taking the ball about 12 feet from the basket on the right side, he split two defenders and, in traffic, scored on a high-arcing, left-handed floater that extended Washington's lead to 102-95.
"I've been working on that," Jordan said. "At the time I knew we were in the penalty so I wasn't going to settle on the jump shot. I had [Shareef] Abdur-Rahim on me, I saw Ratliff come over. I didn't have an opportunity to pass it. It was in my left hand, so I shot it."
On the next possession, Haywood blocked Robinson's runner and the Wizards quickly got the ball to a streaking Stackhouse for a breakaway dunk that all but sealed their fourth road victory.
"I knew Big Dog [Robinson] was going to drive because his teammates were getting on him about shooting jump shots," Haywood said. "I just knew he was going to come to me."
It was all fireworks in the first half as Washington raced to a 64-53 halftime lead. Washington's season-high first-half total, while shooting 65 percent, was one point fewer than it scored in Friday's 14-point loss to the New Jersey Nets.