Jordan gets 39, then perturbed, as Wizards lose to Knicks, 97-96

Veteran tersely addresses team's lack of desire, effort

March 10, 2003|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - The world's most famous basketball player made his final visit to the self-proclaimed world's most famous arena yesterday, as the usually jaded citizens of the Big Apple strained for one last glimpse of Michael Jordan.

By the end of the day, however, Jordan's Washington Wizards got further from a look at the playoffs with a 97-96 loss to the New York Knicks that touched off a round of finger-pointing after the game.

Jordan played a near-perfect game, scoring 39 points in his final appearance at Madison Square Garden, but blistered his teammates for failing to match his effort and desire to grab the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

"It's going to take a lot better play from a lot of other players on this team and not just a one-man situation," said Jordan, who hurt his jaw diving on the floor in the fourth quarter. "It's very disappointing when a 40-year-old man has more desire than 25- or 26- or 23-year-old people. He's diving for a loose ball, he's busting his chin, he's doing everything he can to get his team into the playoffs. And it's not reciprocated from the other players on this team. That's very disappointing.

"I can look in the locker room and see a couple of guys who are willing to do those necessary things. But I can look and count on my fingers a lot more that won't do those things. And until those guys really let go of that macho and cool attitude and all of that and do the necessary things to play the game of basketball, it's going to be tough for Washington to make anything."

Jordan complained that while he is "doing everything I can to verbalize, as well as physically show what it takes to win," his teammates - all but one he had a hand in choosing as the club's former president of basketball operations - are not matching his effort.

"It's up to them to receive that and do the extra work and do the necessary things," Jordan said. "The disappointing thing is, if you make a mistake in October, you shouldn't be making the same mistake in March. You have to have some growth, you have to have some persistence and understanding for the game to make a change. We have too many players making the same mistakes in March that they made in October and it's going to make it very tough for this team to make the playoffs."

Guard Jerry Stackhouse, who tied a season low with five points on 1-for-7 shooting, complained that he was not getting the ball enough to be a credible offensive weapon.

"I can't do anything if I don't have the ball. I'm just playing. That ain't how I play," Stackhouse said. "I've been in the league seven years. They [coaches] know how I play, they know what I do to get off. And what we're doing right now isn't for me. It's good. M [Jordan] is scoring well and other guys are involved. But that's not how I get off. Other guys are constantly attacking me on the other end, and I'm running to space on the other side. I probably have a 30-point career average on [Knicks guard] Allan Houston and I can't even get the ball in an iso [isolation play]. Talk to the coach about it."

Wizards coach Doug Collins was not apprised of Stackhouse's complaints, but other Wizards players privately and Jordan publicly spoke of Stackhouse's lack of defensive intensity, especially against Houston, who scored 15 of his 28 points in the first quarter, getting two fouls on Stackhouse in the first 2 1/2 minutes.

"Jerry got into a really passive state when he got those two fouls," Jordan said. "They made a conscious effort to put pressure on him and he never got into a rhythm and it started on the defensive end. They made it a focus to go right at him with Allan Houston. ... Yes, it's very important for him to be more offensive-minded and take shots. But it's also important, too, to focus on the defensive aspect. I don't think he ever got out of the blocks."

The Wizards (30-33), who fell two games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the last Eastern playoff berth with 19 games to play, suffered their third loss to a sub-.500 team in their past four games, as the Knicks blistered Washington with nine three-pointers. The Wizards had just one, from Juan Dixon with 20.8 seconds left.

Jordan, who used to regularly torture the Knicks (28-35) in the regular season and playoffs, scored 26 in the first half. He put up 15 straight points in one late second-quarter burst to keep New York, which shot 54 percent in the first half, from shooting Washington out of the Garden.

In the third, the Wizards took the lead for one possession, as Stackhouse, who spent most of the game in foul trouble, hit a baseline jumper with 9:09 left in the period to give Washington a 61-60 lead. However, Latrell Sprewell and Houston hit back-to-back threes on the next two New York possessions to start a 22-13 spurt, and the Knicks didn't look back the rest of the period, leading 82-74 at the end of three.

The Wizards scored just six points in the first 7:30 of the fourth quarter, but still had a chance to win, as the Knicks scored just two free throws in the final five minutes.

But as has often been the case this season, the Wizards ran out of time and lost to an opponent it should have handled, particularly with so much at stake.

"We're making it tough for ourselves," said reserve forward Bryon Russell. "We're playing in spurts. We're not playing like a team that wants to make the playoffs right now. We can't just play the last five minutes of the game and expect to win. It was a great effort, but it came up short."

Next for Wizards

Opponent:Orlando Magic

Site:MCI Center, Washington

When:Tomorrow, 7 p.m.

TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet/WTEM (980 AM)

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