Jordan injury may KO Wizards

With team reeling, possible absence comes at worst time

February 26, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

MIAMI - The Washington Wizards' post-All-Star break troubles have officially moved from the bump-in-the-road category to borderline full-fledged panic, with a potential crisis mixed in: the possible prolonged absence of Michael Jordan.

The Wizards have dropped five straight and seven of their past eight games to hover around the periphery of the Eastern Conference playoff race, so now would seem the worst time for Jordan to go on the injury list.

But that's exactly what might happen. Jordan, the team's leading scorer and only proven commodity, sat out the last six minutes of Sunday's 92-80 loss to the Miami Heat, suffering the lingering effects of a right knee ailment.

After the game, Jordan said he would consider sitting out at least a couple of games or going on the injured list, a place he hasn't been since the 1985-86 season when he broke a bone in his left foot and was out 64 games.

In addition, Jordan, for the first time in recent memory, questioned whether he will continue his comeback for a second season.

"There are some things that I've been talking with some of the doctors in terms of what I may need to be doing in the off-season," Jordan said. "But it's so far in advance for me I'm not thinking about that right now. I'm, more or less, focusing on the moment. When the season ends, that's when I'll think about next season."

At a minimum, it appears Jordan, who turned 39 last week, will take on a reduced load, particularly during the regular season, perhaps playing in fewer back-to-back games and curtailing his minutes.

The Wizards have played on consecutive nights twice in the past week and three times since the Feb. 10 All-Star Game, with seven more back-to-backs remaining.

Those games apparently have taken a toll on Jordan, who acknowledged Sunday that he is "getting old."

"It's a sign that things are coming to a closure in terms of where my career may be heading," he said. "There were nights when back-to-backs were easy to bounce back from. Now, your body's sending you messages and I don't want to ignore it too much.

"My competitive nature is to go against it to some degree. [Sunday night,] my body won. There are going to be other situations where I really have to be cautious and understand what my body is saying. The unfortunate part is the inconsistency. My mind is consistent. But my body is not."

Washington coach Doug Collins wanted Jordan, who had his knee drained of fluid before Sunday's game, to sit, but Jordan elected to play.

Jordan said he will practice today before deciding whether to play in tomorrow's home game against the Portland Trail Blazers. It remains to be seen how much Collins - hired by Jordan when he was the team's president of basketball operations - will be able to take Jordan out of the lineup against his will.

Just as ominous for Collins is the team's tailspin, which has knocked the Wizards (27-28) below .500 for the first time since Jan. 22 and into a tie Indiana Pacers for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

Collins has identified the culprit - lack of defense. He said the team is giving up more points and allowing teams to shoot better than during the Wizards' nine-game winning streak through December that got them into the playoff race.

"If we're going to win, we're going to have to play much better defense," Collins said. "We're going to have to be much more aggressive. I have probably made concessions where maybe this guy can't do this or maybe this guy can't do that. We've got to go back to being aggressive."

It also hasn't helped that no one besides Jordan has stepped up to assume some leadership. Most troubling by his relative absence is guard Richard Hamilton, who, except for a 29-point game against Phoenix in the team's only post-All-Star win, has slumped badly.

Hamilton, who is shooting 41 percent (45-for-111) in his past six games, said he's been troubled by Washington's recent penchant for fading in the fourth quarter, especially in the past four losses.

"We definitely have to keep playing hard and tough," said Hamilton, the team's second-leading scorer at 19.3 points per game. "We've been letting the games slip away in the last quarter. In the fourth quarter of every game, we're in it to win it. That's when we have to make that push to go ahead and try to win."

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