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STRICKLAND EJECTED, BUT WIZARDS HOLD ON TO IMPROVE POSITION IN PLAYOFF RACE

On the first stop of a four-game Western trip that could make or break their playoff chances, the Washington Wizards passed one test despite Rod Strickland flunking the diplomacy exam.

The Wizards overcame the ejection of Strickland to defeat the Portland Trail Blazers, 99-87, Tuesday night. It was the first -- and easiest -- stop on a trip in which they will play Seattle, Phoenix and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Juwan Howard scored 24 points and Tracy Murray 23 as the Wizards pulled a game ahead of New Jersey and Orlando in the fight for playoff berths in the Eastern Conference.

The Magic hurt their own fortunes by losing 85-73 to Atlanta.

Strickland drew two technical fouls from referee David Jones for protesting a call with 2:39 left in the third quarter and the Wizards leading 63-60.

During a timeout, Strickland stayed on the court to argue with Jones, then kept arguing even after the first technical. He still wouldn't leave after Jones threw him out, finally being persuaded to depart by teammates Chris Webber and Harvey Grant.

Strickland tripped over a Blazers dancer on his way out.

Strickland called it "one of the worst experiences with a ref I've ever had."

"I didn't say anything crazy to him. I was just talking," Strickland said. "As a referee, he could have handled the situation a whole lot better because I didn't say anything to disrespect him. You know when you've said too much and crossed the line. But he crossed the line. They need to fine him. They need to suspend him."

Jordan takes his shots in magazine piece

NEW YORK -- Michael Jordan shed some light on his future, called for Jerry Reinsdorf to consider selling the Chicago Bulls and took shots at Alonzo Mourning, Nykesha Sales and Reggie Miller in a magazine article he co-wrote.

"Everyone wants to know if this is my last year. Let me say this again," Jordan wrote in the second edition of ESPN magazine, which goes on sale today. "I won't play for another coach. If Reinsdorf and the other owners don't like it, sell the team. Let somebody else come in. The Bulls are worth a couple hundred million. Reinsdorf put in $13 million, so that's a hell of a profit."

Jordan has repeatedly said this will be his last year if the Bulls replace coach Phil Jackson at the end of this season.

Chicago management has been equally adamant that this will be Jackson's final season.

"The question is, who's going to take a step back. Who's going to flinch? Not me," Jordan said. "I'll tell you this. I'm not coming back as a player-coach. Never. There won't be any coaching for me at all."

Other tidbits from Jordan's article:

On Miller: "I really don't dislike playing against anybody, but playing Reggie Miller drives me nuts. It's like chicken-fighting with a woman. Don't touch him, or it's a foul. But he has his hands on you all the time, like a woman holding your waist.

On Mourning: "Dennis Rodman gets into Alonzo's head now. Alonzo's weak in the mind. Alonzo's an intimidator, but sometimes an intimidator can be intimidated. The bully can be bullied."

On Nykesha Sales, who while wearing a cast on her leg was allowed to score an uncontested layup that made her Connecticut's leading career scorer. "If some team gave me an open lane for a layup for the scoring title, I'd pass the ball. I wouldn't want it."

Del Negro wins game for Spurs

CLEVELAND -- Vinny Del Negro knew the shot wouldn't be easy. He also knew time was running out. But even if he missed, San Antonio's twin towers -- Tim Duncan and David Robinson -- would be nearby to try to put it in.

With calm proficiency, Del Negro hit a 12-foot baseline jumper with 3.3 seconds left to give the San Antonio Spurs an 86-85 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Robinson led the Spurs with 27 points, 10 rebounds and eight blocked shots. Duncan had 18 points and 10 rebounds. Robinson scored 13 points in the final quarter, and made 13 of 16 shots from the foul line as San Antonio held a 23-13 free-throw advantage.

"I have to give Vinny Del Negro credit, because he made a very, very tough shot with Derek Anderson playing him extremely well," Cleveland coach Mike Fratello said.

Around the rim

Larry Johnson scored 23 points and Allan Houston had 18 as the Knicks beat the Warriors, 88-75, for their first road victory in more than a month. . . . Steve Smith scored 10 of his 28 points in the last 10 minutes to break open a close game as the Hawks beat the Magic, 85-73. . . . Glen Rice had 24 points and seven rebounds, and all five Charlotte starters scored in double figures as the Hornets defeated the Raptors, 106-89, their 14th victory in 15 games. . . . Karl Malone scored 19 points, Greg Foster had 12 points and a career-high 15 rebounds and John Stockton had 11 assists as the Jazz routed the Suns, 92-73. . . . Ray Allen scored 33 points and Armon Gilliam added a season-high 29 as the Bucks snapped a nine-game losing streak with a 118-108 victory over the Rockets.

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