Thursday, November 22, 2001

Michael Jordan is still waiting for one of those patented layups to fall the ones he used to hit from impossible angles with the gravity-defying english that only he could put on a ball.

That hasn’t happened yet for Jordan, but it might before the Wizards win another game perhaps tonight in Indiana, when he resumes hostilities with the Indiana Pacers and former sparring partner Reggie Miller.

Jordan has been criticized by many for not meeting the lofty standard he set while winning six championships in Chicago. Nonetheless, he has been anything but shabby.

Yes, his 27.4 average is substantially lower than his career 31.5, but it is still third in the league. And for a guy whose legs were supposed to be gone, his 2.0 average in steals is third in the league.

So who out there doesn’t want this old guy on his team?

“He can play for us any time he wants,” Charlotte coach Paul Silas said before his injury-ravaged team became the seventh in a row to beat the Wizards on Wednesday, 95-88. “Bottom line is, he’s still Michael. A whole lot of teams will take that. So if you’re asking whether or not I’m surprised that he’s starting to look better than he did than when he missed his first 14 shots in that game, sure he’s looking a lot better than that. A whole lot better.”

Silas was referring to Jordan’s 5-for-26 shooting in a recent game against Seattle. However, Jordan has appeared rejuvenated in the three games he’s played since then, averaging 35 points and making 52.5 percent of his shots from the floor. That has not, however, resulted in victories for the Wizards.

“I’m feeling more comfortable as the season goes on,” said Jordan, who also is averaging 37.1 minutes a game. “The key is for other guys to find their comfort zone and start playing the way they’re capable of playing.”

Unfortunately, the Wizards have failed to capitalize on having a 20-plus point scorer on the roster for the first time since 1998. With seven straight losses, they have positioned themselves to fall off the NBA radar less than a month into the season.

“We haven’t made the most of what Michael brings here,” coach Doug Collins said. “So far we’ve failed to capitalize on having the greatest competitor in the history of team sports in the locker room with us.”

And it could get even worse. Eight of the Wizards’ next 10 games are on the road, and six of them come against teams that last season reached the playoffs.

Ever since this skid began with a 22-point loss at Detroit on Nov. 4, the Wizards have played about as poorly as a professional team can. Their opponents shot better from the field than they did in all but one game, and there have been times when their listlessness has resulted in being pounded on the boards.

Execution has been poor at best, so much so that even Jordan’s own teammates have begun to wonder how Jordan views them.

“I’m sure it’s probably more frustrating for him,” Chris Whitney said. “If we’re doing our job, it makes it easier on him. We know that we have to pick it up.”

However, Jordan has chosen not to isolate himself from his teammates. There was a rumor before the start of the season that he would have his own room to change in rather than sharing the team locker room. But Jordan is in the corner of the Wizards’ locker room, right next to Whitney.

Despite scoring 30 points and handing out six assists against Charlotte in a game that saw the other starters make one field goal the entire game, Jordan depicted himself as part of the problem.

“I’m disappointed more than I’m frustrated because I believe in my teammates and will continue to do that,” Jordan said. “But we’re all making mistakes. We’ve made some improvements since Day One, but we’re not nearly where we should be. Change is happening in this organization. Unfortunately, it’s all through losing, and that’s not fun.

“If you start pointing fingers, that can cause a negative situation. We’re all on this team and we’re bonding. We’ve got to work our way through this process. … This is a trying time, and it’s something we have to continue to work on until we get it. And right now we’re not getting it.”

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