Jordan: Wizards can contend for Eastern title

Legend also says he feels better this year than last

Pro Basketball

October 06, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WILMINGTON, N.C. - In his most definitive statement since training camp opened last week, Michael Jordan declared yesterday that his comeback is on track and that the Washington Wizards will be a contender for the NBA Eastern Conference championship.

Addressing the media here at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington's Trask Coliseum, where the Wizards are holding training camp, Jordan said he feels better during this year's workouts than he did last year, when he was returning to action after a three-year layoff.

"Last year, I had to push myself to get myself back into basketball shape. I kind of overdid it," he said. "I probably did overtime when I shouldn't have done overtime. I probably didn't listen to my body as I probably should have.

"This year, I've made a conscious effort to listen to my body, to push when I feel I'm capable of pushing. But at my age [39], I have to listen to my body. I can't just listen to my mind. If I listen to my mind, I feel like I can take off from the free-throw line. But I know that sometimes your body's not willing to do those types of things. So, I'm in touch with my body a lot more than I was last year."

To keep from overtaxing himself before the regular season begins in Toronto on Oct. 30, Jordan said he won't play in all eight of Washington's exhibition games and has not participated in all of the team's practices, as Wizards coach Doug Collins is teaching material that Jordan is quite familiar with.

"I've got to be doing something over here to keep my mind from focusing on getting out there on playing," Jordan said. "But my attitude is I want to be in on every drill. I know the competition, I know the type of things that Doug is working on with the team and I wish I could be out there. But I know I have to be very smart in terms of how I access my involvement and look at the bigger picture."

Jordan, who missed 22 games last season with knee ailments, said he and Collins continue to project that he will average 30 minutes a game this season. And though Collins continues to say that he expects that Jordan will come off the bench to anchor the team's second unit, and play extensively in the fourth quarters of games, Jordan, who hired Collins when he was president of basketball operations, continues to hold out the possibility that he will start.

Jordan's progress, to date, is largely a mystery. The team has held twice-a-day workouts here daily, with the second of those workouts closed to the media. Only the last 15 minutes of one of those workouts is available for media consumption, and Jordan's participation has been completed by the time reporters and cameras are allowed in.

The team will conduct a scrimmage here Tuesday night, in what may be the first extended look the public will have of Jordan, though he is not expected to play for long, if at all.

Though he has not specified which of the games he is likely to play in, it appears likely that he will participate in games against the Denver Nuggets on Oct. 15 and 21, and against the New Orleans Hornets on Oct. 19.

The Wizards, at Jordan's behest, reworked their lineup during the summer, adding guard Larry Hughes and forward Bryon Russell via free agency, and guard Jerry Stackhouse via a trade with Detroit that sent Richard Hamilton to the Pistons. The team also drafted forward Jared Jeffries and dealt Courtney Alexander to New Orleans for a first-round pick, which they turned into former Maryland star Juan Dixon.

The combination has Jordan believing that Washington, which missed the playoffs last season with a 37-45 mark, could reach the NBA Finals in June.

"I like that June part," Jordan said. "Obviously, I think we can be a very successful team in terms of wins and losses, and I think we can contend for the Eastern Conference title. I really believe that."

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