Washington Wizards coach Doug Collins knows that the success of his team will in large part be determined by how he uses Michael Jordan. Twelve games into the season, Collins feels he’s giving Jordan too many minutes.
The 38-year-old Jordan leads the 3-9 Wizards with 38.6 minutes a game. Before the start of the season, both Collins and Jordan agreed that the ideal number of minutes for Jordan would be in the low 30s. However, because the team has been so bad, Collins has had to extend Jordan if the team is to have any hope for victory.
The Wizards play four games three on the road in the next five nights beginning tonight in Cleveland, and Collins said he wants to keep Jordan’s minutes around 33 or 34 per game.
“I’ve got to get Michael’s minutes down,” Collins said yesterday following the team’s practice. “I’ve been very lucky here because we haven’t played any back-to-back games. … If I have to chain him down to the bench I’ve got to keep him off the floor. He doesn’t want to do that, but if we don’t get his minutes down below 40 minutes a game we’ll never get him through the season, and I can’t do that.”
In the last five games, Jordan, who always wants to be on the court and at times has disagreed with Collins when pulled from games, has logged an average of 41.6 minutes, including a season-high 45 Saturday in the Wizards’ overtime defeat of Boston that ended their eight-game losing streak.
“I was worn out and I didn’t have my legs,” said Jordan, who committed several late errors, had his shot blocked in overtime and scored 17 points on seven of 24 shooting. “That was as tired as I’ve been in a long time. It’s taking awhile to get my legs back but they’re headed in that direction.”
There are some winnable games on the schedule this week. Cleveland and Miami, whom the Wizards face on Friday, are a combined 6-20. They also have much tougher games against Philadelphia and Orlando.
“I told the guys that we’ve got to find a way to win two games this week, minimum,” Collins said. “Our goal is to win two, and that means we’re going to have to play well in stretches when Michael is not on the court. He’s a safety net and we play off of him. But when he’s not on the court, that’s when we really have to execute.”
Collins recently shifted Jordan from small forward to his natural shooting guard position so that he wouldn’t be forced to play Jordan against more physical players. This move also coincided with Collins moving shooting guard Richard Hamilton to the bench. However, Collins has since returned Jordan to small forward and re-inserted Hamilton into the starting lineup.
However, Collins has not gotten the production that he envisioned from second-year shooting guard Courtney Alexander. Fortunately for the Wizards, Hubert Davis, activated from the injured list on Thanksgiving Day, has played well at shooting guard. In his first game Davis scored 21 points including six 3-pointers and he scored eight points in the Wizards’ victory over Boston.
“Hubert is the consummate pro,” Jordan said. “He’s stepped right in and has given us a contribution. He’s a valuable component for us. His versatility has allowed us to go with a lot of different lineups. He gives us another experienced guy in the fourth quarter.”
So far, perhaps more than anything, the lack of experience has hurt the Wizards. There are four rookies Kwame Brown, Etan Thomas, Bobby Simmons, and Brendan Haywood on the roster. Haywood, a 7-foot center, was activated from the injured list yesterday after missing the entire season to this point with a torn ligament in his left thumb.
Collins wants these players and the other young players, such as Hamilton and Alexander, to learn as much as they can from watching Jordan, who has committed to playing at least two seasons.
Yesterday Collins pointed out Hamilton who had 16 points, six assists, a season-high eight rebounds and a huge steal against Boston as a player who was starting to mature.
“He had a terrific five for 19 game,” Collins said. “The way he played is the way I want him to learn how to play. He’s going to get his shots. When he can be that productive in those areas it will change games for us.”