- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

For Washington Wizards forward Jerry Stackhouse, the matter is settled.
One day after Michael Jordan openly questioned the desire of his teammates, Stackhouse made every attempt to portray the team's most recent flare-up as little more than a family feud, not the beginning of a gulf that will make the team's dwindling playoff chances even more remote. Stackhouse himself added to the fire after Sunday's 97-96 loss to the New York Knicks by repeatedly challenging reporters to ask coach Doug Collins why he wasn't getting the ball.
"Everybody knows that I'm very competitive and that I have a lot of pride in myself and my ability to play the game," said Stackhouse, who matched his season low with five points. "When I go 1-for-7 I was upset, in the heat of the moment. I don't think that it was intended to come out the way it did when I said, 'Talk to the coach.' It wasn't meant for it to come off as me against him or anything like that. When I read it in the paper, that's the way it looked."
The way it looked and sounded was augmented by Jordan's comments after the loss, which dropped the Wizards two games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 19 games to play. Jordan scored 39 points in his final appearance at Madison Square Garden, a stirring performance in which he went to the floor and into the crowd in pursuit of loose balls.
"It's very disappointing when a 40-year-old man has more desire than a 25-, 26-, 23-year-old man," said Jordan, who does not talk to the media on practice days between games. "Diving for loose balls, busting his chin and doing everything he can to get his team in the playoffs, and it's not reciprocated from other players on this team.
"I can look at this locker room and see a few guys willing to do those things. But I could look at it and see a lot more who won't do that. Until guys let go of that macho and cool attitude and the necessary things take place, it's going to be tough for Washington to make anything."
Collins, who was not aware of Stackhouse's grumbling until Monday, said he understood why Jordan spoke out.
"I don't know what else I would need to add to that," Collins said. "I just think that the sense of urgency [for Jordan] is greater. He's counting down the number of games he has left in his career."
Reserve point guard Larry Hughes said Jordan's comments "shouldn't bother you if you can look yourself in the mirror and know that he's not talking about you."
The Wizards (30-33) have withered in the heat of the playoff race. They have lost four of their last five games three of those to teams with sub-.500 records. The Wizards tonight face the Orlando Magic, who are 2 games ahead of the Wizards in the playoff race and hold the East's seventh playoff berth.
Stackhouse didn't disagree with Jordan's comments. Rather, he indicated that these are the type of things that are said when a team's chances of reaching the postseason appear to be slipping away.
"That's how he feels," Stackhouse said. "That's Michael Jordan. Or maybe that was, again, one of those statements made at the loss of an important game to us. We are in this situation right now, and it is coming down to the end of the season and these last few games.
"But you can't put everything on these last two games. We played 61 games before that. What about in November, December and January? There were a lot of games that we let slip by then, and nobody was pointing fingers or doing anything. At the same time we've hit a tough stretch here, lost a couple of games. But I've been through his before, and I don't think it is a time to panic."
The two fouls Stackhouse picked up in the first two minutes against the Knicks hurt, forcing him to the bench for the next 10 minutes. Stackhouse admittedly played tentatively at both ends on his return, not wanting to pick up his third foul.
Still, the Wizards let a victory slip away, even with Stackhouse's subpar play. After all, the Knicks won despite making just two field goals in the fourth quarter.
"No doubt about it: We blew it, basically," Hughes said.
However, the Wizards can't afford more blown opportunities. The Wizards trail the Milwaukee Bucks by two games in the race for the conference's final playoff berth, and in the next three weeks they face the East-leading Detroit Pistons twice and a tough West Coast swing that includes games against the Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers.
The infighting that surfaced recently although downplayed by all won't help.
"It happens on every team," Stackhouse said. "Most teams do a good job of keeping whatever little fracases that they have in-house. I think because of the magnitude of that game yesterday … it kind of bothered everybody that we lost the game, so a lot of the negative laundry that we had was aired that really didn't need to be. Maybe on my part, maybe on Michael's part, maybe on whoever's part.
"But I think the most important part is for us to get back and get past it. Winning is the cure-all. A good win tomorrow would get everybody feeling good about each other and happy again."
Note The Wizards signed backup point guard Anthony Goldwire to a second 10-day contract. At the end of this contract, the Wizards will be forced to decide whether or not to sign Goldwire for the remainder of the season.


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