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Jordan Wills the Wizards to Win

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Found: a cure for that nagging itch that Michael Jordan says brought him back to the NBA.

There must be times, as in Saturday night’s first half, when he can’t do anything right, and his young teammates seem even more clueless than usual, when Jordan must ask himself, “What am I doing here?”

For the moment, it’s OK. Jordan can still play--if not at his old level--and the Washington Wizards aren’t losers anymore, with a winning streak and a 2-1 record after rallying from 13 points behind in the third quarter to beat the Philadelphia 76ers, 90-76, at the MCI Center.

The face is familiar, as are the mannerisms and the No. 23 on his chest, but, at 38, it’s an older, wiser, and humbler Jordan, now part coach, part point guard and only part of the MJ he was.

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When the Wizards started their charge, Jordan was 4 of 14 from the floor. It wasn’t Jordan who led them, but third-year guard Richard Hamilton, who scored 13 points in the third quarter and a game-high 29 in all.

Jordan had 20, missing 14 of 21 shots (“Whew, don’t remind me,” he said), with his usual full line: nine assists, six rebounds, a block and two steals.

“You could see he didn’t have the spring he had against Atlanta [where he scored 31 points in the Wizards’ first win],” said Coach Doug Collins. “But he just stayed on the floor and did what we needed. You look up, 20 points, nine assists, six rebounds, two steals. His will is what drives this team....

“I think there was this feeling that Michael came back to show he can still lead the league in scoring and show these young guys. That’s not why he came back. I mean, he loves to play.”

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Well, he probably loves it more at some times than he does at others

The Sixers were supposed to be easy pickings, without Allen Iverson, Aaron McKie and Eric Snow, their entire backcourt and about 60% of their offense. NBC was on hand for the Iverson-Jordan “matchup,” but in the absence of the Sixer guard, all it was to that point was a Wizard stinker/embarrassment.

Then Hamilton hit a mid-range jumper, a layup off a fast break and a 17-footer, and the Wizards were on their way back. By mid-fourth quarter, the run was up to 50-18 and they were 19 points up.

Not that anyone doubts who has ultimately changed this picture.

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“Well, they got Michael back, who’s as good as any player who ever played the game,” said 76er Coach Larry Brown. “You get a player like Michael, it takes the pressure off everyone....He makes everyone on the floor better and that’s what the great ones do.”

For his part, Jordan says this works for him, even if it’s not quite as much fun as being a Bull in the old days.

“It’s an unfair comparison because of all the success I enjoyed in Chicago,” he said.

“The thing that I sense here is the hunger to win and to succeed. I could sense that tonight and hopefully, we can continue to feel that. I think the players, if they feel that, they’re going to feel a little bit obligated to go out there and do their best for the fans.”

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Last season, they started 1-7. Now they’re a hit, at least in comparison. So these are the good times, sort of.


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