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HOWARD SCORES 36 POINTS BUT MICHAEL MISSES OUT ON RARE WIZARDS WIN

Michael Jordan sure would have loved this one.

Juwan Howard scored a season-high 36 points and fueled a fourth-quarter comeback as the Washington Wizards ended a five-game losing streak by defeating the Indiana Pacers, 123-113, Friday night.

Jordan, who became the Wizards' president of basketball operations on Wednesday, was at home in Chicago and missed the show.

It's hard to determine whether Jordan has had any influence yet, but Washington certainly didn't look like the same lethargic team that lost to Indiana by 15 points just nine days earlier.

"Our energy was more on defense than anything, which is how we got a lot of easy baskets," Wizards coach Gar Heard said. "I've been preaching that all year. Sometimes it takes somebody from the outside to really push things.

"Every time Michael comes around, he has a tendency to make guys pick up their game a little bit. Even when he played, he was that type of competitor. I was glad to see that competitiveness come out tonight."

Jordan also missed a chance to chat with former adversary Larry Bird, now in his third season as the Pacers' coach.

"I think he'll bring something to this team," Bird said. "If they play with intensity and they play hard like they did tonight, they'll win a lot of games."

Howard, coming off a 2-for-9 shooting performance against Dallas two nights earlier, connected on 16 of 26 shots.

Rod Strickland had 27 points and Michael Smith had a career-high 20 for the Wizards, who had lost nine straight and 16 of 20 to Indiana.

Reggie Miller and Jalen Rose had 21 points apiece for the Pacers.

"We didn't play any defense from start to finish," Bird said. "It wasn't even there. Giving up 123 points is embarrassing."

Hardaway returns to fuel Heat

MIAMI -- Tim Hardaway returned to the lineup after missing 26 games, but it was Jamal Mashburn, the subject of trade talks, who keyed Miami's 101-79 victory over the slumping Atlanta Hawks.

Mashburn, playing in his first game since learning he was nearly dealt to Philadelphia, scored 28 points. Hardaway scored just two points on 1-of-6 shooting but dished out 11 assists in 26 minutes. It was his first game since injuring his right knee Dec. 1.

Around the rim

Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce each scored 21 points as the Celtics won their fourth straight and ended Seattle's seven-game winning streak with a 111-86 win over the SuperSonics. Boston won its fourth straight. . . . Jason Kidd scored 12 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter and the Suns handed the Nuggets their sixth straight loss, 101-99. Clifford Robinson also had 24 points for the Suns.

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