Under Jordan rules, 2 tentative Wizards

Hamilton relinquishes starting role

Alexander's few shots aren't falling

November 20, 2001|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - The day Michael Jordan was introduced as a member of the Washington Wizards, life-sized pictures of teammates Richard Hamilton and Courtney Alexander flanked the stage on a wall inside the team's practice court at the MCI Center.

The photographs of Hamilton and Alexander were gone shortly after the news conference ended.

It took a little longer for the players to fade from such a prominent spot.

Though Hamilton has been much more visible than Alexander this season, both players have contributed to the team's disappointing 2-7 start and six-game losing streak going into tonight's 8 o'clock nationally televised game here against the Charlotte Hornets (4-5).

Hamilton, who led the Wizards in scoring last season with a little more than 18 points a game, has watched his production fall slightly but his role change dramatically with Jordan's return after a three-year layoff. Hamilton relinquished his starting job at shooting guard to Jordan last week.

"There's definitely a difference, because last year I was getting about 20 shots a game, and this year, with him on the floor, I'm not going to be able to take that many shots or get that many shots," Hamilton said after practice yesterday.

"I'm learning each and every game that everyone on this team is going to have to make sacrifices. One of my sacrifices early in the season has been not getting as many shots and learning how to feed off him. It's difficult. Coming off the bench is not easy."

Hamilton was initially benched midway through the third quarter of a 109-100 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Nov. 9, because Wizards coach Doug Collins thought the third-year guard wasn't playing much defense. Hamilton has responded well, and he averaged more than 17 points and 35 minutes in three games off the bench.

"When Coach came up to me and told me he wanted me to come off the bench, he told me he wanted to find a certain lineup that could benefit the team," said Hamilton, whose 17.4 points a game are second to Jordan. "One of the things was putting Michael back at the two [shooting guard]. With me coming off the bench, it gives us another guy who can score."

Collins made the move, in part, because of Alexander's struggles in his new role as Jordan's backup. After coming to Washington as part of a midseason trade that sent Juwan Howard to Dallas, Alexander finished his rookie year as a starter, averaging 19.6 points over his last 19 games.

Of all the Wizards, Alexander has struggled the most this season in adjusting to playing with Jordan. It's not surprising, because they play the same position. It's also not a shock because Alexander has never really learned how to play without the ball in his hands.

"Anytime you suit up with arguably the best player ever, it's definitely going to change things," said Alexander, who averaged a shade more than five points in 18.7 minutes a game.

Said Collins: "I think the big thing for Courtney is probably right now he is going through losing some confidence. When you do that, you have to hustle your way to good things, some energy plays. That's what I talked to him about three days ago, just getting yourself involved emotionally."

Alexander has had moments when he has used his size (6 feet 6) and athleticism to his advantage, blowing past defenders and rising to the basket with great ease. But there have been longer stretches when he is barely noticed, then forces a shot the first time he touches the ball.

"I've had a tough time trying to find my rhythm," said Alexander, as evidenced by his making just 19 of 54 shots (35 percent) so far. "It's been a rough time for me thus far. Hopefully with time, it will get better."

Like Hamilton, Alexander understands how the equation has changed and how sharing the ball with Jordan, who is fourth in the league with 27.1 points a game while taking more than 25 shots a game, is different from playing with anybody else.

"I've never played off the ball as much as I have now, but like I've said, Michael Jordan is the exception to any rule," Alexander said. "I understand that. I'm for the team, but at the same time, I'm a much better player than what I've shown and it's up to me to show that."

NOTES: Collins said that rookie center Brendan Haywood, who has been out since tearing ligaments in his left thumb during the preseason, could be activated for tonight's game. Should that happen, the Wizards likely would place forward Tyrone Nesby or center Etan Thomas on the injured list.

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