Wizards 109, Hornets 104
Larry Hughes and Jerry Stackhouse may have been ailing last night, but Michael Jordan's 39-year-old bones seemed to feel just fine.
With Stackhouse and Hughes in street clothes, Jordan scored a season-high 45 points as Washington overcame a mid-game slump to beat the New Orleans Hornets, 109-104, before a sellout crowd of 20,173 at MCI Center.
"You never know what could happen on a given night," Jordan said. "The unknown is something that is intriguing me the most. Tonight with a couple of guys out no one knew what could happen. I felt very comfortable and I came in the arena feeling really good about this."
"He's made big shots throughout his whole career, but being 40 and hitting those kind of shots . . . he looked like he was at his prom out there," said guard Juan Dixon, who scored 10 points off the bench.
Jordan's 45 points were the most since he scored 51 against the Charlotte Hornets on Dec. 29, 2001. His previous high this season was 41, in a double-overtime game against Indiana on Jan. 4. The 45 points matched his output against New Jersey on Dec. 31, 2001.
Hornets forward Jamal Mashburn nearly matched Jordan, but his 39 points were not enough to prevent the Wizards (23-25) from ending a two-game losing skid with Stackhouse out because of a left groin pull and Hughes out with a bruised left knee.
"I didn't expect him to score 45," Wizards Coach Doug Collins said. "I would have liked to have said just crank it up and go for that. He got us off to a great start and gave us great confidence we could win the game. I was concerned with how much energy he would have to finish."
Jordan had plenty of energy down the stretch, and Collins said he never considered pulling the star: "I was not going to get that wrath," Collins joked.
Despite playing a game-high 44 minutes, Jordan scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to help the Wizards stave off a late charge. After trailing 99-90 with 3 minutes 34 seconds remaining, New Orleans closed to within 103-100 on two foul shots by Robert Traylor with 30 seconds left.
However, the Hornets (24-24) couldn't overcome the turnovers that plagued them all game. The Wizards scored 34 points off New Orleans's 22 turnovers -- compared to Washington's 10 -- and none was bigger than a steal by guard Tyronn Lue with less than 30 seconds left in the game.
After Jordan made two foul shots with 27 seconds left to put the Wizards up 105-100, Lue stole the ball and was fouled. He knocked down both foul shots to give Washington a 107-100 lead.
"M.J. carried us for the first three quarters," Lue said. "We played and fed off of Michael. Given the opportunity, he is capable of doing that. We didn't want to wear him down too much, or he wouldn't have been able to help us in the fourth quarter. He was carrying us the whole night."
Jordan may have carried the Wizards for much of the night, but during a decisive 13-0 run midway through the fourth quarter during which Jordan scored just four points, Washington looked elsewhere.
There was Dixon knocking down a three-pointer, then later taking a steal the length of the court for an easy layin.
There was second-year forward Kwame Brown knocking down a jumper in the lane, and forward Etan Thomas scrambling for loose balls.
And then there was Lue, thrust into the starting lineup when Hughes was a late scratch before the game, hitting a runner in the lane with 8:55 remaining to give the Wizards an 87-86 lead they never relinquished.
"I made a conscious effort in the fourth quarter to tell our guys, 'I don't want you to get that floating Michael eye,' which means that's all you see," Collins said. "We've got to go to other guys out on the floor because he has helped get us to that point. But we have other guys to help us finish."
Wizards Notes: With Stackhouse out through the all-star break, Hughes's absence thinned an already lean bench. Lue started in place of Hughes, leaving Dixon as the only true front-court reserve.
"I think [Larry will be] game-by-game," Collins said. "Hopefully, we will get him back on Tuesday [against Cleveland] but if not, we won't see him until Sacramento" on Feb. 11.
Hughes bruised his knee against Milwaukee on Thursday night, when he scored eight points and had four rebounds in 32 minutes. He said he hopes to practice on Monday, and would play Tuesday against as long as he feels no pain. . . .
Courtney Alexander's return to MCI Center was a dubious one as the former Wizard continued to struggle to find his place in the Hornets' offense. Alexander scored six points in 15 minutes, and was 3 of 8 from the field.
After averaging 9.8 points in 56 games for Washington last season, Alexander was traded in June for the 17th overall selection in the 2002 NBA draft.