- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 3, 2001

Michael Jordan has been trying to build confidence in his teammates, young and old, that they can succeed with or without him. But late in Thursday night's 98-88 victory over Atlanta, Washington Wizards coach Doug Collins realized his star might have been struggling with that concept.
"At about 31/2 minutes to go, I just said to him, 'Trust your teammates, you know. They'll help you.' And he did. And the guys came up with some big shots and some big plays."
Indeed, they did. Popeye Jones hit a crucial jumper in the corner. Richard Hamilton's floating jumper nestled softly into the bottom of the net on a number of occasions. And in the end, nobody came up bigger than tiny Chris Whitney. The team's most consistent outside threat right now, Whitney hit a decisive 3-pointer with a little less than 39 seconds left.
"Right now Chris Whitney is my John Paxson and Steve Kerr," Jordan said, referring to his old Chicago teammates. "He's going to spread the defense and give me a chance to operate under the radar."
But just as Jordan's teammates can't sit back and watch him this season, Jordan has to learn to have faith in a roster assembled almost exclusively by him when he was the president of basketball operations. Only Jahidi White, Whitney and Hamilton preceded Jordan.
Jordan and his teammates will get the chance to see how much their trust continues to grow when they face Philadelphia tonight at MCI Center in their home opener. The 76ers are a shell of the team that played in the NBA Finals last year. Three starters league MVP Allen Iverson (elbow), top sixth man Aaron McKie (shoulder) and point guard Eric Snow (thumb surgery) are out. The Sixers, who started last season with a team-record 10 victories, have dropped their first two games.
Jones said the Wizards, winners of just 19 games last season, can't afford to savor their first victory too long.
"We enjoyed the win," said Jones, who yanked down a game-high 13 rebounds and played tough defensively against Shareef Abdur-Rahim. "But now it's time to be ready to play Philly. That's the way the NBA grind is. You've got to get ready, and you've got to let this one go. It feels good, but we've got to be ready on Saturday."
The Wizards' defense, particularly in transition, remains the biggest concern. However, it looked the best it has since the beginning of preseason against Atlanta, especially in the second half when the Wizards consistently beat the Hawks to loose balls and outscored them 49-35. Washington held Atlanta to just eight assists.
"Where we made our greatest improvement is defensively," Collins said. "We're giving ourselves a chance to win."
If the other players continue to develop confidence in their ability and Jordan does the same, the Wizards have reason to be mildly optimistic about this season. They still need Christian Laettner and Courtney Alexander to get more involved offensively and defensively. If this happens, Jordan will have two more teammates he can consider trustworthy.
As for Jordan, the fluid buildup in his right knee that forced him to sit out practices leading up to the season opener is no longer a concern. His knee was pain-free following the 40 minutes he played against Atlanta.
Asked to rate where he is on a scale of 1 to 10, Jordan replied, "Seven. I'm coming. I'm dunking, and I'm starting to finish at the basket. All my timing plays, my rhythm, legs, explosiveness to the basket are coming. My game is coming. The more games I play the better my rhythm is going to become."
Overall, Jordan was pleased with the way the Wizards bounced back against Atlanta. However, he conceded that during halftime of the Atlanta game he had to get on some of his teammates. Jordan said it was the first time he has done that this season.
"There are times when I am going to say something, and I said a little bit tonight so that the guys will understand what this is all about," he said. "It's not about being on TV and getting all these tickets for your family in Atlanta. It's about going out and holding each other accountable, connecting somehow and coming back with a win so that we can have a nice flight home to Washington, D.C., instead of a finger-pointing flight. When we go and play, they better understand that it's us against the world."


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