WASHINGTON -- Michael Jordan was simply awesome. His team was simply awful.
Jordan showed he can still dunk, still take over a game, and still score 40-plus. He was the Jordan of old in a five-minute stretch in the third quarter. He scored 41, but his Washington Wizards were helpless without him in Saturday night's 102-95 loss to the New Jersey Nets.
''I'm feeling good, that's the good sign,'' Jordan said. ''The bad sign is that the team's going to have to elevate to stay in tune with what's happening with me.''
But there was no doubt that Jordan was back. He played 33 minutes, shot 15-for-24 from the field and 9-for-11 from the line. In the third quarter, he almost single-handedly closed an 18-point deficit to 2. He scored 16 of 20 Wizards points during the stretch, making the first dunk of his comeback and going 6-for-6 with two 3-pointers. He also assisted on one of the other baskets with a no-look pass to Courtney Alexander.
''It's the confidence that I had when I committed to come back to play,'' Jordan said. ''I knew that I could play at that level. I know I could get into that type of rhythm. It took a lot of work to get back to this point. I had to shed about 25 pounds. It's like a verification of the hard work that I've done. I don't think that I'm there yet, but I'm on the right road.''
Jordan was the only Wizards player to score in double figures, although shooting guard Richard Hamilton missed the game with an elbow injury. The Wizards outscored the Nets by 16 when he was in the game and were outscored by 23 when he was on the bench.
Coach Doug Collins said the other players were ''playing in awe,'' and that Hamilton and Courtney Alexander will both have to play whenever Jordan's not in the game so that there's some sort of scoring threat.
''Michael got his 33 minutes,'' Collins said. ''He was the only thing that only gave us any kind of stability the entire game. Is it scary? Yes,it is. And we've got to change it. It's not the 33 minutes. It's the fact that if he doesn't score or make something happen, we struggle.''
The dunk was probably Jordan's least flashy play. Jordan caught the Nets' defense sleeping and blew past Donny Marshall and a screen for a simple one-handed jam. It was enough, however, to excite the sellout crowd at the Wizards' only home preseason game.
Other Jordan highlights included a classic, falling-down baseline jumper over rookie Richard Jefferson, who committed the foul for a three-point play. There were also back-to-back 3-pointers, the second one from well behind the arc that had Jordan strutting backward down the court.
But as well as Jordan played, he couldn't inspire his teammates to finish the job. The Wizards were trailing by two when he left the game with 5:36 to play in the third quarter, but the deficit was 17 when he returned one minute into the fourth.
Jordan scored 10 points in the final period and got the Wizards within two again, but didn't get a chance to take a game-winning shot. Tyronn Lue's layup made it 97-95 with 1:19 to play, but Derrick Dial answered at the other end for the Nets.
On the Wizards next possession, Lue badly missed a 3-pointer with plenty of time on the shot clock, denying Jordan a final touch. Jordan was taken out of the game after Brandon Armstrong's 3-pointer then made it 100-97 with 36 seconds left.
Jordan gave no indication of a big night in a ragged first quarter. Matched against Jefferson, he was beat twice on backdoor plays in the first seven minutes. Jefferson, the No. 13 overall draft pick who has a Jordan poster on his wall at home, played his idol to a virtual standstill in the first quarter: Both scored six points in eight minutes, with Jefferson grabbing three rebounds to Jordan's one. Jordan made 2 of 5 shots, all jumpers.
Jordan returned four minutes into the second quarter seemingly determined to make amends. He ignored Kwame Brown, who was open and calling for the ball in the paint, and made a contested jump shot on the left wing. His best shot in the half was an off-balance, fadeaway jumper from the right wing that also drew a foul on Marshall. He drove to the basket just once, a ginger move in a crowd that drew a foul.
The Wizards' real problems were on defense and transition against New Jersey's starters, who were more crisp and better organized. With new point guard Jason Kidd already in the flow, the Nets outscored the Wizards 13-0 in fast-break points in the first half.
Keith Van Horn and Kerry Kittles scored 17 points each to lead the Nets, who have won three straight.
''Let's just keep in mind the most important thing, we won the game,'' Jefferson said. ''As long as we won the game, I'll be happy. He's the best player on the planet. He still can do pretty much what he wants to do.''
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