Rising star Tracy McGrady outplayed fading star Michael Jordan, leading the Orlando Magic out of their slump and to a 96-87 victory against the Washington Wizards on Saturday night.
McGrady, 22, left the MCI Center with 26 points, eight rebounds and a spring in his step. Jordan, 38, managed 15 points and seven rebounds, leaving the game before it was finished and walking gingerly on sore knees.
McGrady will practice today with his Magic teammates, preparing for Monday night against the Memphis Grizzlies. Jordan will leave his teammates behind and go to Chicago to see his personal physician, hoping to uncover the cause for the soreness and fluid buildup in his right knee.
"It's about time for me to pay attention to this so it doesn't linger all season. There's some swelling," Jordan said. "I don't think there's any ligament damage, but it just needs some treatment."
Jordan, the game's greatest player who returned this season after a three-year absence, admitted Saturday that a four-games-in-five-days stretch had gotten the best of him, waving the white flag and suggesting that he may miss Tuesday's game in San Antonio.
"The torch is lit. He [McGrady] is trying to take over that torch, and that's good," said Magic teammate Darrell Armstrong. "Maybe the torch got passed a little bit tonight."
Guarding each other throughout the night, Jordan and McGrady were the reason for the national television audience, despite two teams with losing records. Neither played their best, although McGrady came considerably closer than Jordan, who scored a season low in 33 minutes.
Although the first half was a standoff, McGrady beat him badly in the second half. McGrady stole the ball in the open court from Jordan in the third quarter. In the fourth, he blocked a shot by Jordan, who tried to post him up.
"He's 38. I'm 22. There's a difference," McGrady said. "But this wasn't about T-Mac and Michael Jordan. It was about us trying to get a victory. We needed one. And I was determined that I could help make it happen."
The Magic (8-9) were coming off a three-game home losing streak, desperate to right themselves before they sank too far into the depths of the Eastern Conference.
"We needed this win. We needed any win at this point," said Magic Coach Doc Rivers. "It was a very, very important game for us. It was a team win. It wasn't Tracy against Michael. He didn't let that matchup consume him. That's what helped us win."
It was obvious that the Wizards, who played Friday night in Miami, would struggle without Jordan at the top of his game. Richard Hamilton had 21 points and made 11 of 12 free throws. Rookie center Brendan Haywood had 18 points and nine rebounds in a reserve role. But the Wizards shot poorly (38 percent) and struggled around the basket.
The Magic got 17 points from point guard Darrell Armstrong, who also had 12 assists and eight rebounds. Reserve center Patrick Ewing had 18 points, 12 rebounds and two blocked shots in 28 minutes. Troy Hudson had 11 points.
Jordan and McGrady struggled early, trying a little too hard to make an impact immediately. Both were on the bench with two personal fouls less than five minutes into the game.
Both also took a beating at times in the paint. Jordan went down in the second quarter clutching his right eye after he got poked by Armstrong while fighting for a rebound. The eye was bloodshot after the game, giving him a beaten look.
McGrady went down hard in the third quarter after being hit in the jaw by a forearm from Christian Laettner, who was driving the lane in heavy traffic. McGrady immediately came out of the game, needing to shake his head several times to make sure his mind was clear.
But it was Jordan who was laboring in the second half. He made only two of 12 shots after intermission and missed his last five shots. He came out of the game with 3 minutes, 50 seconds remaining and the Wizards trailing by 11. He went to the end of the bench with a towel over his head, obviously through for the night.
The Wizards did close to eight in the next minute, but that was as close as they could get.
The Magic led 50-39 at halftime, and they never lost the lead. The Wizards never got closer than five points in the second half.
"I don't know if we had lost confidence, but losing three games at home like we did really hurt," said Magic forward Horace Grant. "I think defensively, we started second-guessing ourselves. We needed this as a confidence boost. We all did."
Tim Povtak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.