Jordan hopes facing Jazz brings back sound of victory

Wizards on 5-game skid

Collins benches Brown

Pro Basketball

November 16, 2001|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - The disappointments of his first season with the Washington Wizards have not washed away the memories of his last season with the Chicago Bulls. The five-game losing streak his current team has endured has not overshadowed the six NBA championships won by his former team.

Tonight, Michael Jordan will try to help the Wizards do something they haven't experienced in nearly two weeks - win a game - while stepping onto the court at MCI Center against the Utah Jazz, a team he single-handedly helped deny a championship a little more than three years ago.

Had he returned to the Bulls after a three-year retirement rather than play for the Wizards, there might have been more hype about Jordan's first meeting with the Jazz. Had either Washington (2-6) or Utah (3-6) started better this season, there might have been more to the story line.

Regardless of how much Jordan and the Jazz try to downplay it, the image of him hitting a 20-footer after creating some space against Utah defender Bryon Russell in the final seconds of Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals will certainly be the focus going into the 7 p.m. matchup.

"You can't compare the two." Jordan said after practice yesterday. "Obviously, it was an event that happened and more was made out of it because people thought that was the best way for me to leave. At times, I thought it was, too. Obviously, it wasn't be cause I'm back playing.

"You can't take that shot from me, it's a memorable shot. But that shot itself didn't make Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan was made over 13 years and is still being made now. Even with what I'm going through now, I obviously would like to get that feeling again."

For now, Jordan and his team mates would like to have the same feeling they shared after beating Atlanta and Philadelphia during the first week of the season. With two games left on what has be come a disastrous 0-3 homestand, a victory over the struggling Jazz would more than accomplish it.

If Utah has suddenly begun to show its age, in particular 38-year-old Karl Malone and 39-year-old John Stockton, inexperience has plagued the Wizards. To reverse that trend, new coach Doug Collins plans to go with a more veteran rotation that, for the time being, might not include top draft pick Kwame Brown.

While the 19-year-old wasn't the only player Collins blamed for the team's latest debacle - a 29-14 second quarter that led to a 21-point deficit in Wednesday's 107-98 defeat to Milwaukee- Brown was the most visible of a group that included Courtney Alexander, Tyronn Lue and Etan Thomas.

"I've rewarded him when he didn't deserve it." the coach said.

Collins said after practice yes terday that he will move Jahidi White, who didn't play the past two games, back to his role as the team's starting center and will likely go no deeper than eight or nine players. Most will be veterans who helped clean up the mess against the Bucks and tie the game early in the fourth quarter.

Jordan didn't single out any of the team's young players who contributed to another disastrous perform ance, but his message was clear.

"They have to understand it's just the business of basketball." Jordan said. "When they take that paycheck every two weeks, along with it comes responsibility, accountability and work. If they're not ready for that, they should give back the money and go to school."

Aware of the early struggles encountered by players who made a similar jump - from Tracy McGrady during his first couple of seasons in Toronto to Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles to Jermaine O"Neal in Portland to fellow rookies Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry in Chicago - Brown is trying to be patient.

"If I keep working hard, I'll be back in the starting lineup." said Brown, who started the past two games, but might not get off the bench tonight. "I think I've been too worried about making a mistake. I think about playing mistake-free basketball and you can't play mistake-free."

Collins said that Brown's progress has been slowed by his physical condition beginning when he missed some workouts in the summer and came into training camp out of shape, and then he missed over a week after spraining his ankle in the season opener.

"He's being a 19-year-old." Collins said yesterday. "We had certain expectations for him, but right now he's behind. I've told him that if he gets himself in good enough shape during practice, you can run yourself into a good game."

The Wizards are hoping for that to happen tonight.

And Jordan is hoping that he can push one memorable performance against the Jazz aside with another.

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