Folks in Cleveland have grown accustomed to Michael Jordan beating their Cavaliers in just about every way, from buzzer beaters to 69-point outbursts. Tonight, they had to settle for Jordan doing it in more businesslike fashion, scoring a game-high 26 points in leading the Washington Wizards to a 100-91 victory before a rare sellout crowd of 20,562 at Gund Arena.
By defeating the Cavaliers, at 15-62 the NBA's worst team, the Wizards moved within 11/2 games of the idle Milwaukee Bucks for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The Wizards (36-41) also moved within a game of matching last season's win total.
Jordan, who had 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals in 46 minutes, scored 14 points in the second half. He deferred to teammates for much of the fourth quarter, when the Wizards, after a few minutes of sloppy play late in the period, finally were able to put the pesky Cavaliers to rest.
"Every win keeps us in there and I'm going to do everything I can to keep this team moving in the right direction," Jordan said. "In the second half, we needed something, a lift, and I was able to get going and the guys picked up from there."
Wizards guard Tyronn Lue and small forward Jerry Stackhouse backed up Jordan with 18 points each. Stackhouse had the only miss in Washington's 28 free throw attempts. Forward Christian Laettner (16 points) and Lue each had eight assists.
Forward Bobby Simmons scored 11 points and grabbed five rebounds in 28 minutes as a reserve. Simmons played 19 minutes in the second half when Coach Doug Collins, frustrated by the ineffective play of his big men, went with a small lineup and used a 1-2-2 zone defense to fluster the Cavaliers.
"The zone bothered us a little bit and that allowed them to play their tempo," Cleveland Coach Keith Smart said.
Collins said Simmons, whose role has increased since the team's Western Conference road trip a few weeks ago, is a major reason why the Wizards' offense is running smoother and his teammates are being more aggressive on both ends of the floor.
"With Bobby out there, there are five guys on the floor that have to be guarded. So if everybody is going to run at Jerry and Michael to try to give help, somebody's going to get open," Collins said. "You saw Christian hit shots, Bobby hit shots, T. Lue hit shots and we had  assists.
"In a time of need, I go with our best competitors and regardless of size. That's what I did in the second half."
Said Simmons: "I want to be an impact on this team as a guy who can score in big situations and a guy who makes plays. I got open opportunities and I knocked down shots."
Cleveland center Zydrunas Ilgauskas led his team with 23 points. Rookie power forward Carlos Boozer continued his solid season by grabbing a game-high 14 rebounds and scoring 16 points. Guard Ricky Davis added 18 points and forward Jumaine Jones added 14 points in a reserve role.
The Wizards went into halftime with a 52-51 lead but started slowly in the third quarter. Cleveland took its biggest lead at 57-54, but the Wizards tied it at 59 shortly thereafter on a layup and free throw by Jordan.
The game was nip and tuck until midway through the third quarter, when Laettner scored the first eight points of a 10-2 run that put Washington up 73-66. The Cavaliers answered with five straight points, but a three-pointer by Jordan, who had 10 points in the quarter, left Washington with a 76-71 edge going into the fourth. Cleveland got as close as three points in the fourth quarter but faded from the midway point.
Wizards Note: High school phenom LeBron James, projected to be the first overall draft pick this summer, had a baseline seat near the Cavaliers' bench. James was a major autograph attraction at halftime. One fan sported a replica of James's high school jersey. James and Jordan exchanged greetings after the game outside of Washington's locker room.