Bulls 104, Wizards 97
Reprinted from yesterday's editions
This was one ending in Michael Jordan's storied career that did not end happily.
In his last game in Chicago, a game precluded by hype, interjected with hoopla and overrun with emotion, Jordan struggled and his Washington Wizards lost, 104-97, Friday night before a sold-out United Center crowd of 23,215 that opened the game clapping for Jordan and ended cheering for the home team.
"The loss is not fun," Jordan, 39, said. "It wasn't a good ending."
Jordan, who plans to retire for a third and final time after this season, got a brief and final ovation when he checked out with 8.1 seconds remaining. But it paled in comparison to the cheers the crowd mustered for the Bulls, who, on his night, stepped out of his far-reaching shadow.
Jordan, who led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships in 13 seasons but left the organization after his 1999 retirement only to join the Wizards as an executive in January 2000, scored just 11 points and made just 4 of 14 shots in his last game in his adopted hometown.
It was a performance that probably won't register for long among his die-hard faithful, who applauded him for more than three minutes upon his introduction and gave him three more huge ovations during the game.
Jordan said that all of the attention did not bother him as much as it did in the past and that once the game started, he simply struggled to find his game.
"I never got into a rhythm tonight," Jordan said. "Good things come to an end. This will not ruin what my career basically stood for or what my second or third return has been. It's just a game. We lost and we'll move on."
Jordan has failed to evoke any vintage performances in his three trips to Chicago, totaling just 37 points. Yet as long as his team won, his point totals made little difference. This time, though, he could not muster enough personally or ignite most of his less-than inspired teammates.
"Obviously, the Bulls had more energy and they played better," Jordan said. "We just seemed like we were in a fog."
It appeared for a few minutes that Jordan would find a way to break the hearts of the Bulls' faithful for a second time -- the first being his departure -- when he made two free throws to bring Washington from 11 down to 97-95 with 1 minute 46 seconds remaining. However, Washington missed four of its final five shots, and the Bulls countered with a 7-2 run to win for the first time in the three games Jordan has played in Chicago.
Chicago backup forward Marcus Fizer scored 17 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, including 11 straight to start the period after the Wizards pulled within three. He led six Bulls in double-figure scoring.
Said Fizer: "We all think [Jordan] is the greatest, but we had to get a win."
Wizards guard Jerry Stackhouse scored a game-high 23 points and had 10 assists and seven rebounds. Forward Christian Laettner, who resumed his starting role after missing Wednesday's loss to New Orleans with the flu, had 21 points and 10 rebounds.
However the Wizards' porous defense (Chicago shot 53 percent), limited bench production and an inability to compete with Chicago inside sent the Wizards to their third loss in four games and dropped them below .500 (21-22) for the first time since they were 16-17 on Jan. 4.
The Bulls (16-27) outscored the Wizards 48-26 in the lane and got 56 points from their reserves, compared to 22 points from Washington's backups, only three of whom played (Charles Oakley, Kwame Brown and Tyronn Lue).
Washington never led after the midway point of the second quarter and fell behind by 11 late in the third, despite a huge effort from Laettner, who scored 11 points in the period.