WASHINGTON - There may be some private moment in the offseason when Michael Jordan calls his former coach, Phil Jackson, to apologize for the Washington Wizards' 100-99 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers last night at MCI Center.
Don't hold your breath. With cold efficiency that recalled his days when he and Jackson were together for six titles in Chicago, mixed in with a taste of the reality of who he is now, Jordan turned in a crisp performance, with a season-high 25 points in a season-high 30 minutes.
Jordan, however, missed two free throws in the final 18 seconds that would have iced the win, and needed a mighty assist from Jerry Stackhouse, who slammed home the game-winning basket for the final two of his 29 points just before the buzzer, to give Washington an electrifying win.
"I missed some easy free throws and obviously you never want to be in a position where you have a chance to help the team and you don't help them," Jordan said. "It was a great win for this team. We fought hard enough, and we deserved to win with the way we played. Hopefully, we take this and catapult into playing solid basketball."
The Wizards (3-3) surrendered a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead, as the three-time defending world champion Lakers - operating without center Shaquille O'Neal, who is recuperating from surgery on his right big toe - fought back to take the lead with 2.9 seconds left.
But it was Robert Horry, who has built a reputation on hitting clutch shots, winning Game 4 of the Western Conference finals last year with a three-pointer from the top of the key, who buried a three from the left corner to put the Lakers (2-5) ahead 99-98 and nearly leave the crowd of 20,173 crestfallen.
"I've seen it," said Stackhouse, in his first season in Washington after being traded from the Detroit Pistons in the offseason. "We were in the same situation in Detroit. We beat them for four quarters, and they made a run and he stepped up and made a shot like he did tonight. He's notorious for that.
"That's the sign of a great team, and that's what we want to become. We want to be a team where, no matter the situation, we're in the game."
On the ensuing possession, with Jordan in the post as a decoy, Stackhouse inbounded the ball on the left sideline to forward Bryon Russell, who handed it back to Stackhouse. The 6-foot-6 guard then drove the baseline, and seeing no one in the lane to impede his progress, soared and threw the ball down as the horn sounded.
The play triggered an automatic review from referee Joe Crawford, but replays indicated the ball left Stackhouse's hand with 00.2 seconds to go.
"I knew that 2.9, almost 3 seconds, is a lot of time, and as soon as [Russell] caught the pass, I made the cut, and I felt like I had time to get there," Stackhouse said.
Jordan, who wrapped up his comeback season last year due to an ailing knee after playing only 12 minutes and scoring two points against the Lakers in April, downplayed the significance of meeting his old coach and playing against the champs.
However, both Jackson and Wizards coach Doug Collins said they knew the game meant something more to Jordan than he was letting on.
"Michael's a very proud man," Collins said. "I looked in his eyes when Horry hit that three and he came over and sat down, and I knew what he was thinking was those [missed] free throws. I know Michael. I know that when Stack made that play, there was nobody happier than MJ."
Percentages: FG .456, FT .955. 3-point goals: 6-18, .333 (Shaw 4-6, Horry 1-3, Fox 1-6, George 0-1, Fisher 0-2). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 4 (Bryant 2, Horry, Walker). Turnovers: 10 (Horry 2, Bryant 2, Shaw 2, Fisher, Fox, George, Walker). Steals: 3 (Horry, Fox, Pargo). Technical Fouls: None. FGFTReb
Percentages: FG .456, FT .778. 3-point goals: 0-3, .000 (Stackhouse 0-1, Lue 0-2). Team rebounds: 13. Blocked shots: 2 (Brown, Haywood). Turnovers: 8 (Stackhouse 3, Brown 2, Jordan 2, Laettner). Steals: 5 (Jordan 2, Russell 2, Hughes). Technical fouls: Stackhouse, 1:05 first. L.A. Lakers23172039-99
A-20,173 (20,674). T-2:26. Officials-Joe Crawford, Blane Reichelt, Michael Henderson.