- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 28, 2002

Michael Jordan and Washington Wizards coach Doug Collins spent most of the time after yesterday's practice at MCI Center denying that the team was the disjoined and fractious mess it appeared to be following Thursday night's loss to the Detroit Pistons.

The Wizards' 87-82 defeat before 20,173 often-booing home fans, which dropped the team four games below .500 (12-16), was full of disheartening subplots that made this one of the worst losses of the season.

To begin, the Wizards committed seven turnovers in the fourth quarter while making just six field goals, contributing to a blown 11-point lead in a game that saw them score just 33 points in the second half.

Perhaps worse, though, was leading scorer Jerry Stackhouse's seeming disillusionment with the way he was used late in the game. Stackhouse got just one shot in the fourth quarter when the game was on the line, and later he expressed disappointment that he was not allowed to go at Detroit's Jon Barry whom he views as a defensive liability.

Jordan, responsible for three turnovers in the fourth quarter and four on the night, said that now was not the time for the Wizards to come unglued. He noted that the team shot better from the floor, got to the free throw line more often and won the rebounding battle.

"We beat Detroit in every phase of the game except the turnovers," Jordan said. "It wasn't a point of who got shots, who didn't take the shots. If we take care of the basketball we win the game simple as that.

However

"The one thing we can't do is start dividing and pointing fingers one way or the other," Jordan continued. "The one thing you have to do, no matter who you are, no matter how great you are, no matter how great you may be you always have to look in the mirror and say, 'What can I do to make this team better?'"

That was all but directed right at Stackhouse, an All-Star two years ago who more than once has voiced his displeasure with the way the offense is going. Jordan is on board with Collins that the team can't resort to going to one-on-one battles to decide the outcome of games. To drive the point home Jordan cited the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers and the struggles they are having despite the presence of Shaquille' O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, arguably the two best players in the world today.

"They've got two stars on their team, and they're still not winning," Jordan said. "So it's about how connected you are. It's not having one guy who can take over a game. Kobe Bryant can take over a game all he wants, but if the defense and the focus is on that individual, you still have to be connected for you to win ball games."

Stackhouse said after the game the Wizards got away from what they were doing in the first half against Detroit and that was a major reason for their third loss in a row. In each of those games also including tough losses at San Antonio and Dallas the Wizards had been in position to win.

"I don't think that's the case," Collins said. "We're just trying to win games. At the end of games, you've got to make plays. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to do that. It seems like the other teams have come up with big plays in those tight games, and we haven't been able to do that. But obviously we want the ball to be in Michael or Jerry's hands at the end of the game because they're our two best players.

"But in this business, the toughest part is when you lose tough games like that and you can stay together and continue to chip away."

As expected, the Wizards re-signed forward Bobby Simmons to the roster yesterday as a replacement for Jared Jeffries, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last weekend during practice.

Simmons, a rookie with the Wizards last season, was traded to Detroit in the Richard Hamilton-for-Jerry Stackhouse deal in September. Simmons was released by the Pistons in late October and has since been playing with the Mobile Revelers of the National Basketball Development League where in 14 games he was second in the league in scoring (17.1) and was averaging 5.2 rebounds.

To make room for Simmons, the Wizards placed Jeffries on the injured list.

For a team that experienced somewhat of a mini-crisis and obviously has some unresolved issues, seeing Simmons a team favorite last season at practice yesterday was, in Collins' words, "a bromide."

Simmons said he hoped that showing he could score in the NBDL will help influence the Wizards to use him in their game plan.

"Getting the opportunity to play would be the best thing that could happen to me now," Simmons said.

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