WASHINGTON - With starting guards Jerry Stackhouse and Larry Hughes out nursing injuries, the Washington Wizards needed something extraordinary to hold off the New Orleans Hornets last night at MCI Center.
Specifically, they needed Michael Jordan. Not the Jordan of the first three months of the season, who occasionally was stripped of the ball or shot short of the rim, but the Jordan of, say, 1992, who turned the court into his own personal playground.
As if on command, Jordan reached back a decade, pulling a masterpiece out of his hat with a season-high 45 points to help the Wizards overcome a 10-point third-quarter deficit for a thrilling, 109-104 win over the Hornets.
"You never know what could happen on a given night," said Jordan, who was 18-for-33 from the field, played the entire second half without a rest and missed only four minutes out of a possible 48 minutes for the game.
"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 into the arena feeling really good about this."
"I didn't expect him to score 45," coach Doug Collins said. "I would like to say that I told him to crank it up and go for that, but he got us off to a great start and gave us great confidence that we could win the game. I was concerned about how much energy he would have to finish, because he was either chasing [David] Wesley or [Jamal] Mashburn around."
Jordan, who eclipsed a previous season high of 41, scored in a 55-minute double-overtime performance against Indiana on Jan. 4, had enough kick to finish because Collins moved him to point guard to give him a breather.
"In the second half, things changed a little bit because I was such a focus that the defense started compensating for me and I was able to find some easy baskets for the other guys," said Jordan. "The first half was me and the second half was everybody."
All of the old familiar Jordan moves - the scoop shot, the drive, the medium-range jumper, and, of course, the turnaround fade from the baseline - were on display, and he tossed out a team-high six assists as well.
"He's made big shots throughout his whole career, but being 40 and hitting those kinds of shots ... he looked like he was at his prom out there," said Juan Dixon, who had nine of his 10 points in the fourth quarter.
The Wizards knew coming in last night that they would be without Stackhouse, who sat out most of the second half in Thursday's loss in Milwaukee with a flare-up of a groin pull that cost him four games two weeks ago.
But Hughes, the team's third-leading scorer, was a late scratch because of a bruised knee he suffered in the Bucks' loss, and it fell on Jordan to pick up the load.
Jordan started hot, hitting four of his first five shots, with 16 points in the first quarter alone, as the Wizards led by as much as 10 in the first quarter. But the Hornets climbed back into the game in the second quarter, when Jordan took his only rest, and New Orleans led by five at the half.
The Hornets (24-24) stretched their lead to 10, at the 2:35 mark of the third period, as they hit their first four shots, all from three-point range. In the period, Mashburn had 14 of his team-high 39 points, while Wesley scored eight of his 16.
But the Wizards seized control with a dazzling 13-0 run in the fourth quarter, keyed off an opportunistic zone defense, which forced 22 New Orleans turnovers that the Wizards converted into 34 points.
Washington took the lead for good on Tyronn Lue's scoop shot with 8:09 left and went on to outscore the Hornets 33-22 in the fourth quarter.
"My coach in college told me that a wounded animal is the most dangerous," said Lue, a Nebraska alum who finished with eight points. "With Larry and Stackhouse out, guys had to step up. I wasn't hitting my shot in the first three quarters, but Coach and MJ told me to keep looking for my shot and in the fourth quarter, I was able to hit a couple of big shots to put us over the hump."
"We had a lot of energy tonight," said Collins. "I had a couple of people walk by me and say, 'You guys played hard tonight.' That's the greatest compliment you can have."
5 times 30 for Jordan
The Wizards' Michael Jordan has scored 30 points or more five times this season. Washington has won all five games. The breakdown:
Date Opponent Min. Pts. Result
Feb. 1 vs. Hornets 44 45 W, 109-104
Jan. 4 vs. Pacers 53 41 *W, 107-104
Dec. 18 vs. Grizzles 35 33 W, 118-100
Jan. 16 vs. Magic 39 32 W, 108-93
Dec. 17 at Hawks 38 30 W, 109-99