- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2001

ATLANTA One game into the 2001-02 season, the Washington Wizards already seem to understand that the new defensive rules are going to have both pluses and minuses. It's just a matter of how they deal with them.

For starters, as the Wizards learned in Tuesday night's 93-91 loss to the New York Knicks, teams are going to double-team Michael Jordan early and often, whether he's got his legs back or not. This will force the other Wizards to make something happen offensively, which is exactly what Jordan and coach Doug Collins emphasized repeatedly during the preseason.

"They're going to have to execute when teams pick me up like the Knicks did," said Jordan, who was unavailable following the team's practice. "I think there were some guys who did take advantage of that. Chris Whitney and Popeye Jones both had very strong games for us. The bottom line is, at the end of the day, we're going to get better. We're going to take advantage of some of those things."

Jordan, who injured his right knee Friday and had not practiced leading up to Tuesday's game, practiced yesterday. However, rookie Kwame Brown did not and is doubtful for tonight's game at Atlanta after twisting his right ankle in the fourth quarter.

Under the new rules, teams can double-team a player before he even touches the ball. Jordan, 38 and still trying to shake off the rust, was double-teamed by the Knicks' Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston on the team's very first possession.

Jordan, recognizing the double, swung the ball to open players, which helped to account for his team-high six assists. The player who benefited from this the most was Whitney. He came off the bench to score 18 points on 7-for-10 shooting, including 4-for-6 from behind the 3-point line, and could start tonight.

However, the Wizards are going to have to have other players step up against Atlanta tonight. The Knicks under coach Jeff Van Gundy have developed a defensive reputation, while Atlanta is a team with a number of new faces trying to jell as a unit.

Still, if the Wizards are to even their record at 1-1 before playing their home opener Saturday against defending Eastern Conference champion Philadelphia, they'll need to take advantage of Jordan being double-teamed.

"No question about it you get more chance to shoot jumpers when they flow to Mike," Whitney said. "I think you're going to see a lot more guys taking jump shots because of the new rules.

"We all know that Mike will get us the ball," Whitney continued. "We've got to take pressure off him by hitting those shots. Then he'll get in the flow, and it will be that much better."

Although Jordan has been playing on a gimpy knee that was kept secret from the media, he didn't use that as an excuse for his poor shooting (7-for-21) at the Garden. Jordan credited the Knicks' defense but added that some of his misses were just bad shots.

"I had some good looks, I just didn't make the shots I have to make," said Jordan, who missed an open 3-pointer and committed a crucial turnover in the final 34.7 seconds.

Jordan's 38 minutes Tuesday were the most played by any Wizard. Collins doesn't want Jordan playing that much every night, but on Tuesday Jordan did not seem to mind. He did hint that the team must continue to take advantage of what opponents give them defensively.

"I don't think it was fatigue," Jordan said. "My knee bothered me a little bit, but I felt good tonight. I think the big factor was that I was trying to move the ball ahead of the double- and triple-teams at certain times. Earlier in the game, that worked for us."

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