- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2001

NEW YORK. — It may be unfair to judge the comeback of Michael Jordan on just one official NBA regular-season game, but it really is all we have to use right now. His preseason performances can't be a true measure, because exhibition anything means nothing.
So if you watched Jordan at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night in the season opener against the New York Knicks, there is only one conclusion: This comeback isn't going to go very well.
In fact, if it continues like it began, I don't think Jordan will be able to last the season, and not just because of physical problems. The mental pressure the embarrassment of 81 more games like the first one will just be too much to bear for him.
Even if it gets better, it would have to get a whole lot better for this to be fun for the greatest player in the history of the game.
He certainly didn't look like he was having fun Tuesday night, even before the tipoff. He looked uncomfortable just standing on the court for the pregame ceremonies. Maybe he knew what was coming.
Up to that point, it had been a pretty exciting night at the Garden. The crowd was pumped up, and it had the air of a playoff game. Then the game began, and the air went out of the Garden, as well as His Airness.
He said he never really got his rhythm, and it was painfully obvious. When he got the ball, sometimes it was as if he wasn't sure what to do with it. What was most surprising was his poor shooting. In preseason games, Jordan sometimes looked as if he could hit the jump shot anytime he wanted, and that he might wind up being one of the best shooters in the league.
He wound up with a desperate 7-for-21 from the floor. He attributed part of it to the double-teaming the Knicks were doing, but on many of his shots he had good looks at the basket.
One, in particular, was startling a 3-point miss with 18 seconds left that would have tied the game. The Knicks finished with a 93-91 win.
"I had a good look, and it came up short," Jordan said. "My shot today was pretty short and pretty flat."
But this was Jordan's signature, the fourth-quarter edge that made him so great. Before the game, former Wizards guard Tim Legler said that was the difference when the Wizards played Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in their three close playoff games in 1997. "If you are close or in the game in the fourth quarter, that's when he makes the difference," Legler said of Jordan. "You know he's going to take over."
Not Tuesday night, and it shocked Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy. "I think we were all surprised at least I was when it went up that it didn't go in," he said.
As badly as Jordan played, the amazing thing is that the Wizards could have still won the game. The Knicks are a bad, bad team, and if the Wizards aren't going to be able to beat the Knicks, this could wind up being last year 19 wins all over again.
Richard Hamilton disappeared during the game. He appeared ready to emerge as a top scorer in the preseason and shot well enough Tuesday night, hitting 50 percent from the field. But he took only 10 shots. Popeye Jones took more shots (11) than Hamilton, who wound up with just 13 points. The Wizards can't have that.
They also can't afford to have Christian Laettner be so irrelevant, either, going just 3-for-11 from the field and finishing with only 10 points. This is Laettner's last chance to salvage something from his disappointing pro career. He will waste it if he doesn't make his presence felt more. It's not like there aren't opportunities, or there aren't enough shots to go around. If anything, one ball for the Wizards on Tuesday night was one ball too many. They didn't know what to do with it.
Jordan is hoping that his teammates get better. He said as much after the game. "They're going to get better," he said, referring to his hapless teammates. "Hopefully."
That sounded like wishful thinking. To consider the alternative after Tuesday night would be to broach the possibility that this isn't going to be as much fun as everyone thought.



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