- The Washington Times - Friday, November 16, 2001

After just two weeks and eight games, the Washington Wizards' season appears to be teetering on the brink of collapse.

With the team losers of five straight heading into the third game of a five-game homestand tonight against Utah, Wizards coach Doug Collins has been forced to juggle the roster in all but two games. A wicked early schedule could damage the young team's fragile psyche if certain problems aren't soon corrected. And the team's hopes of sneaking into the playoffs for the first time since 1997 and only the second time in 15 seasons are dimming rapidly.

"It's a challenge," Michael Jordan said of the Wizards' current situation. "Either we respond quickly or we fold quickly."

The Wizards have mostly wasted a long homestand by blowing what appeared to be winnable games against Golden State and Seattle two teams not expected to make the playoffs. Now, after losing to Milwaukee, the Wizards play their final two games of the homestand against Utah and Charlotte on Tuesday, two teams that are expected to make the playoffs.

these guys," Collins said. "Now is the time to make a change in the direction we're going."

The coming month will decide whether the Wizards are headed for the playoffs or the lottery once again. After Tuesday, the Wizards will play eight of their next 10 games on the road. Six are against teams that made the playoffs last season, including Philadelphia, winners of three straight since the return of reigning MVP Allen Iverson, and Western Conference runner-up San Antonio.

The schedule does not bode well for a team that clearly is struggling. Collins has juggled the starting roster six times trying to find players who will play hard. And tonight he'll make another change, reinserting Jahidi White at center in place of struggling rookie Kwame Brown.

Collins hopes this change will help the Wizards overcome the plethora of mistakes that are plaguing his team.

The Wizards scored 12 points in the second quarter of Wednesday's loss to the Bucks and fell behind by 21 before tying the game in the second half. But they were held to three field goals in the final 10 minutes.

During their slump, the Wizards have been outscored in the second quarter by 10.4 points. In the same five games, the Wizards have fallen behind by an average of almost 23 points.

Opponents have been able to build big leads because the Wizards are unwilling or unable to play defense. Teams are taking advantage of their young players in screen-and-roll situations to get open looks.

The last five opponents have combined to make 41 3-point shots, the same number the Wizards have attempted. Washington has made 10, or 24.3 percent. Detroit, Boston, Golden State, Seattle and now Milwaukee combined to shoot a robust 47 percent.

Much of the problem stems from inexperience. The Wizards have had to play a lot of rookies, particularly in the frontcourt. Brown, Bobby Simmons and Etan Thomas have played extensively.

Of the three, Simmons, at 6-7, plays the best in the post. And the only relief they have in sight is the return of rookie center Brendan Haywood.

Jordan understands their plight, but he did not sound extremely sympathetic yesterday.

"The most important thing for our young players to learn is what winning is about. You have to go to extremes to find out how you can get that to happen," Jordan said. "They're thrust into a situation where we're not playing really well and we're experiencing so many negative outcomes in terms of losing. It's not a great feeling for them to start their careers and try to build upon.

"But they have to understand that this is the business of basketball," Jordan continued. "When they stood up and took that paycheck twice a month, along with that comes responsibility, accountability and the expectation of them working hard. If they're not ready for that they should give back the money, go to school or do something else."

Notes Tonight's game against Utah marks the first time Jordan has faced the Jazz since his game-winning jumper against Utah in the NBA Finals to lift the Bulls to their sixth NBA title in 1998.

Yesterday Jordan said that even he thought that might be his last game.

"People thought that was the best way for me to leave the game, and at times I thought that was the best way for me to leave the game, but obviously it wasn't, because I'm back in the game," Jordan said.

"You can't take that shot away, you can't take what happened," Jordan continued. "It's a shot I'll always remember. But that shot didn't make Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan was made over 13 years and is still being made right now, even with what this team and the organization are going through." …

Jordan is one of five Wizards players on the All-Star ballot released yesterday, along with Christian Laettner, Richard Hamilton, Kwame Brown and Jahidi White. Voting began last night for the Feb. 10 game in Philadelphia.

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