Saturday, November 17, 2001

Michael Jordan and Bryon Russell exchanged words and smiles just before the start of the second quarter last night.
Then Jordan hit his first two shots against Russell.
Jordan did not even find it necessary to employ the push-off maneuver, the space-clearing ploy behind his game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals.
With Jordan and Russell going at it again, if only for a few minutes, it seemed like old times.
It was a sweet scene, Jordan and Russell. It beat the game.
Everyone beats the Wizards, as did the Jazzmen 101-92.
It just goes to show you that two geezers are better than one.
That’s John Stockton to Karl Malone.
That’s Jordan all by himself. That almost was enough.
Jordan probably felt young next to Stockton, who is in his 18th season with the Jazzmen, the longest a player ever has been with one team in the NBA. Stockton, the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals, turns 40 years old in March.
The rallying cry on Fun Street: just say no to rheumatism.
The old guys showed they have lots of fight in them, Jordan in particular.
Jordan found his outside shot, and some of his old tongue-wagging magic. He could feel it, and it did not matter who was trying to impede his path. His was an equal-opportunity assault.
Russell left the game late in the second quarter after pulling up lame. The Jazz called it a groin pull. Others called it a convenient move.
Jordan looked frisky, confident, shaking his head on occasion while plotting his next move. His message to the Jazz was: You can’t stop this. He got it going early and kept it going as the Wizards closed hard on the Jazz in the fourth quarter.
As they did against the Bucks in the previous game, the Wizards tied the game in the fourth quarter but could not finish the deal.
Jordan, in his best effort by far in nine games, finished with a season-high 44 points, and it still couldn’t put the home team on top. The Wizards still lost the game, their sixth loss in a row, as their record dropped to 2-7.
The loss came against a team coming off a 32-point loss in Atlanta and already looking out of it in the Western Conference.
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan has been issuing fighting words to his players, refusing to accept the shift in power around the NBA.
The Jazzmen are running on fumes, clinging to the distant hope that Malone and Stockton have one more earnest run in them. That is mostly a sentimental thought, prompted by the absence of a championship ring. Malone and Stockton have achieved everything else.
Malone, the NBA’s No.2 all-time scorer, probably needs about three more seasons to overtake Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, if he is so inclined.
His place in NBA lore is improbable, given his lack of grace and modest beginning. He was a wisp of a power forward in his rookie season, and a .481 percent shooter at the free throw line. He has added several layers of muscle over the years and elbowed his way to the top. Most opponents believe the elbow is intentional.
It was not the rough stuff that decided this one, just the execution of the Jazz in the game’s final minutes.
Malone had 30 points and 12 rebounds, Stockton 17 assists and eight points. It was, in a way, Utah’s two fossils against Washington’s one.
They were the best players on the floor, the three of them, no matter how many steps they have lost. They put on a show, pulling out some of their good stuff. That was the real treat, not another loss by the home team.
Wizards coach Doug Collins saw a sense of purpose from his players. That’s a start for his team.
“I’m really disappointed for the guys,” Collins said. “They really gave me their heart and soul. It was their best effort of the season. I told our guys, ‘If you keep competing like that, and you keep growing, we’ll find a way to win some games.’ We just have to keep getting better.”
The Wizards have to do that.
It can’t be all on Jordan. He had 44 points, seven rebounds, three assists and one steal in 41 minutes.
The thought that goes with the production is not encouraging.
Jordan’s best game this season was not good enough.

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