CLEVELAND - Doug Collins often talks about how opposing teams sometimes envision themselves playing against the 1998 Chicago Bulls when they face the Washington Wizards and Michael Jordan this season.
Washington's first-year coach could easily say something else: how opposing teams resemble the six-time champion Bulls when they face the Wizards. It happened again last night, in a 94-75 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers at Gund Arena.
"I just think we stink," Jordan said. "We don't come in with the same focus every night. You get so happy after one win. We don't come in with the same intensity. I don't think we're ready to play at their level or anybody's level. We didn't have the energy coming out of the box. Starting the game, we didn't have something."
The Wizards buried themselves with a 10-point deficit after just four minutes, fell behind by 20 in the second quarter and fell apart after closing within two points early in the second half.
The collapse coincided with Jordan coming out of the game with 4:37 left in the third quarter and Washington trailing 59-56. By the time he returned, a little less than six minutes later, the Wizards were down 69-58 and would fall behind by as many as 21.
Jordan played only 31 minutes - the second fewest he has spent on the court as a Wizard - and scored 18 points on 9-for-24 shooting, while failing to get to the free-throw line. Six Cavaliers scored in double figures, led by reserve guard Ricky Davis with 18.
It was the ninth defeat in the past 10 games for Washington (3-10), and coming off an overtime win against Boston Saturday at home, might have been the most disheartening of the season.
Collins couldn't mask his displeasure with the team's collective effort - or lack of one coming out.
"We were lifeless," Collins said. "I knew it before the game. We messed around getting out on the floor to warm up. We walked out on the floor and we were 20 down. To play this game at this level, and to play it well, you better be passionate because the season is a long season. We don't play with any passion."
In giving Cleveland (5-10) its largest margin of victory this season, the Wizards also scored their fewest points since Jordan joined the team. But it wasn't just inefficiency on offense that doomed Washington. One of the many categories in which the Cavaliers dominated was a 20-3 advantage in fast-break scoring.
While Cleveland got double figures from all five of its starters, the Wizards gave Jordan little help. Richard Hamilton shot 3-for-13, finishing with 13 points, and Christian Laettner was the only other player in double figures, with 10. Jordan continued to shoot poorly in the midst of a three-game, 24-for-74 slump.
"I haven't shot the ball particularly well, I'm not going to sit here and make excuses," Jordan said. "I missed layups. I missed wide-open shots. But that doesn't mean it should sink our boat. There's other guys who can put points on the board. I don't see anybody covering my back, as everybody probably expected me to cover theirs.
"That's something I'm not going to live too much with. It's not fun to go out there and not see the effort, especially if I'm not 100 percent. These guys are young enough to step forward and give the effort. If not, if they can't make a basket or two, at least they shouldn't lack on the defensive end. I don't see that sense of urgency right now."
Jordan has been hindered by tendinitis in his right wrist, as well as in his knees. The sore knees prevented Jordan from practicing Monday. It will be interesting to see how he and the Wizards respond when they play in Philadelphia tonight against a Sixers team looking to avenge an early-season defeat at the MCI Center.
Last night's game was the first of four the Wizards will play in a five-game stretch that, after Philadelphia, continues at Miami on Friday night and at home against Orlando for a nationally televised game Saturday.
While Collins was able to get Jordan's minutes down last night, his team's horrendous performance was disconcerting.
Asked how he could get his team out of its funk, Collins didn't sound too hopeful.
"I have no idea," he said. "If they had my energy, they'd be all right."
NOTE: Wizards rookie Brendan Haywood got his first career points on a dunk with 1:27 left in the first quarter. Haywood played his first game after starting the season on the injured list with torn ligament in his left thumb.