Wizards show Bulls blast from the past

Icon of Chicago titles, Jordan meets ex-team having found hot hand

January 04, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - In theory, you'd have to figure the Chicago Bulls are in for a world of hurt tonight against the Washington Wizards.

For one thing, the Bulls come into MCI Center as the only NBA team without a road win, losers of eight of their past 10 and owners of the worst record in the league at 6-24.

The Wizards, on the other hand, appear to have jelled after a slow start, having won two straight and 11 of 13.

Oh, and there's one more little detail haunting the Bulls tonight: They get their first look at Michael Jordan, who in the past few days has started to look like the Michael Jordan who won six NBA titles in 12 years in a Chicago uniform, and groused about seeing those halcyon days come to a premature end.

This forecast, theoretically, seems to call for a lot of Bulls pain, but Jordan, at least publicly, doesn't seem to want to administer a heavy dose of it.

When asked earlier this week if it was important for him to do something special against the Bulls, Jordan took the tactful way out, saying, "Not really. I'd rather win it. Obviously, you want to play well, but there's no set standard in terms of how you want to play. I just want to win ultimately. Secondly, I want to play good. Those are the two factors. I don't want to go in there and lose a game by all means. But you never want to play bad in any game. Chicago's no different. I want to play good and I want the team to win."

The question, though, is what is good. Certainly, if Jordan's past two games - 51 points against Charlotte last Saturday and 45 points against New Jersey on Monday - are indicators, a good night against a team like the Bulls could mean surpassing his own personal single-game scoring mark of 69 points, accomplished against Cleveland in March 1990.

But, at least within earshot of the media, Jordan, who has taken shots at Bulls management for dismantling the team and letting former coach Phil Jackson go after the sixth championship, is attempting to make tonight's game just one more on the long NBA grind in terms of significance.

"Sure, I want to beat Chicago," said Jordan. "By all means, I want to show the progression of this franchise and to stay ahead of them. I want this franchise to be successful. Obviously, Chicago is in our way right now. We've got a big game [tonight] and I'd love to win that game."

Doug Collins, who coached Jordan in Chicago for three years, sees through the rhetoric.

"This is an important day for him," said Collins yesterday. "I know he wants to do well. He has a lot of wonderful feelings for that organization, from the standpoint of that's where his career and his championships were won. But I also know he wants to play well against them and he wants to beat them."

Jordan has been nursing a sinus ailment and yesterday practiced little, if at all. But Collins pointed out that Jordan has been known to play through respiratory difficulties: Witness the 38-point performance against Utah in the 1997 NBA Finals when he was laboring with the flu.

More important than beating a sinus problem for Jordan is getting the feeling that his legs are once again in prime condition. Jordan, who will be 39 next month, has had tendinitis in his knees and admitted that early in the season when he appeared to have lost a step that he was frustrated. Plus he was slowed by ribs that were broken in a summer game while he was guarded by Ron Artest of the Bulls.

Jordan's ribs are healed, and he has been able to undergo regular conditioning with trainer Steve Stricker that includes strengthening his legs for the long haul.

"This is how I've been playing all summer," said Jordan. "When I hurt my ribs, it kind of put me back a little bit. I've been fighting uphill, just trying to get to this point. It's very tough when mentally you know what you're capable of doing, and the physical aspect of it wasn't clicking. Now, everything's clicking and I'm very excited about that."

And that's bad news, indeed, for the Bulls.

Next for Wizards

Opponent: Chicago Bulls

Site: MCI Center, Washington

When: Tonight, 7

TV/Radio: CSN/WTEM (980 AM)

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