- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 4, 2001

The Wizards are determined to play hard in Michael Jordan's presence, as they showed the 76ers last night.
The Wizards fell behind by 13 points early in the third quarter, only to win by 14, a 27-point turnaround. That is not a typographical error.
Neither is this: The Wizards have a 2-1 record, the first time they have been over .500 since the opening game of the 1999-2000 season. Break up the Wizards.
Jordan provided the impetus in less tangible ways than the numbers, which were solid enough: 20 points, nine assists and six rebounds.
Doug Collins appreciated the subtler aspects of Jordan's contributions.
"Michael has that zip in his step," Collins said. "But through his presence out there, he found the open people. His will is what drives this team. The players listen to him."
This is the immediate benefit of the Jordan effect: Show up to play or incur his wrath.
Jordan is in the process of reinventing himself yet again, this time as a highly respectable vestige of his two previous selves.
He's not all the way there yet. He makes that clear after each game. You don't overcome a three-season retirement after one week of the regular season. This conditioning stuff takes time. He can't be what he once was, so ridiculously athletic, and it's harder for him to be consistent.
But what he can be? That is what he is negotiating these days. He still can be plenty good, better than everyone else on the floor. He still can be the difference in the game, as he has been in the last two games.
He has the smarts, the sense of where to be on the floor and an aura about him. He wants to win more than the next guy. That's what they have said about him since his Bulls teams dominated the '90s. In the heat of the moment, he once punched out teammate Steve Kerr during practice. That passion to compete has been conspicuously absent from the Wizards in recent seasons.
They usually went into games looking to go into the fetal position at the first hint of trouble. They know how to finish a game. They know how to pick themselves up after being knocked down. Jordan is there to change that mindset. He is succeeding on some level, reaching his teammates.
"I think they're getting a certain hunger to finish the games," Jordan said.
Jordan looked inadequate against the Knicks, a game that was his to have. He followed that up with 31 points, six rebounds and six assists against the Hawks in Atlanta. It was the sort of game the Wizards would have lost in recent seasons. The same could be said with the game last night, although the 76ers were missing much of their essence from last season: Allen Iverson, Aaron McKie and Eric Snow.
Their absence might not have mattered against the Wizards of last season. The 76ers might have found a way to beat the Wizards anyway. The Wizards probably would have rolled over. They probably would have looked for a place to hide after falling behind by 13 points early in the third quarter. A big deficit was the only excuse they ever needed to call it a night in the Rod Strickland/Juwan Howard era.
The crippled 76ers never stood a chance against these Wizards, not after the Wizards took control of the game in the third quarter.
How many times could the Wizards have said that last season? The only thing they ever controlled last season was their self-destruction.
Jordan did not shoot the ball well against the 76ers. He has not shot 50 percent in a game yet. But even when he can't find his shot, he lends a presence to the team. Those around him have more verve if only because they don't want to get on his bad side.
Even if the new Jordan is less dynamic, the Wizards are more resolute.
No, this was not the 76ers team that went to the NBA Finals last season. That's not the point with a Wizards team that was 19-63 last season. Any victory at this point in the team's development is precious. Any victory is worth celebrating.
That is two out of three for the Wizards.
The two are a testament to Jordan's power to impose his will on a game.


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