- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2002

The Washington Wizards have been with the safety blanket that is Michael Jordan for all but one game this season, but a problematic knee condition is about to make him take a rain check on another game.

Jordan, who was not much of a factor in the Wizards' 102-89 matinee loss to the Houston Rockets at MCI Center yesterday, won't play in tomorrow's game at Detroit, agreeing to the wishes of coach Doug Collins. He likely will be replaced in the starting lineup by Tyrone Nesby.

The Pistons game is the first of two sets of back-to-back games that will see the Wizards (27-24) play four games in five nights.

Jordan missed the team's 103-88 loss at San Antonio on Dec.4 because of a flare-up of tendinitis in his right knee that forced him to have it drained the day before the game. This time Jordan says the knee, which he injured when he banged knees with reserve center Etan Thomas in the Wizards' 108-101 win over the Sacramento Kings on Feb.7.

It is more a precautionary move than anything else for Jordan, who might have to have fluid drained.

"It flared up after [Fridays] Phoenix game," Jordan said of the knee, which had been relatively pain-free before his last-second jumper shot down the Suns 97-96. "With the schedule we have coming up I'll just sit out that game and try to come back for the rest of the week. If you look at the long haul and what this team is trying to do and how successful we are trying to be down the road, you have to kind of use your head a little bit. It also gives our team a chance to go out there and live on their own without the father being around."

The presence of the "father," who will almost certainly be back in uniform on Thursday when the Wizards play host to Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey, was greatly diminished yesterday against the sharp-shooting Rockets (18-34).

Cuttino Mobley finished with a game-high 31 points. Backcourt partner and former Maryland star Steve Francis, who had missed five games in the last month with migraine headaches and did not play in the Wizards' 85-82 victory at Houston in early December, finished with 20 points and nine rebounds.

They weren't the only ones who killed the Wizards yesterday. Washington native Moochie Norris, the third guard in coach Rudy Tomjanovich's three-guard attack, scored 15 points and handed out 12 assists. His eight rebounds left the 6-foot-1 Norris just two boards shy of a triple-double. Also, power forward Kenny Thomas finished with 21 points on 9-for-15 shooting.

Houston, which made eight of 15 3-pointers, put the Wizards away in the third quarter when they outscored them 30-21, and made 11 of 18 shots, including five of seven from behind the 3-point line.

Richard Hamilton led the Wizards with 21 points but shot just 8 for 21 from the field. As a team the Wizards made just 37 of 88 shots (42 percent) compared with the 52 percent (40 of 77) by the Rockets.

The Wizards wanted to snuff out the inside game of the Rockets, which is marginal at best, and force them to beat them from the outside. This, however, backfired on the Wizards, losers of three of their last four games.

"We tried to draw the defenders and then kick it out," Mobley said. "That worked in the third quarter when we hit some shots and it got a lot easier for us."

For most of the day it appeared the Rockets were taking uncontested shots at the basket. Much of what the Rockets do depends on them getting the ball to their shooters, primarily because they have very few threats on the inside.

But when the Rockets are hitting from long-range, much like they were yesterday, they are the toughest type of team for the Wizards to defend against.

"This is the most difficult team for us to play, a team that plays one-on-one and a lot of screen-roll," Collins said. "We tried to play a little bit of zone and they hit 3s."

A rash of injuries Francis, an All-Star starter, was playing in just his 31st game of the season has knocked the Rockets out of playoff contention. This, according to Collins, also makes them a dangerous team on any night.

"Because of injuries, their season is over," Collins said. "They are playing right now having a lot of fun. If Steve Francis had been healthy all year that team would be challenging for the playoffs. They're 2-19 without him but they're a winning team with him. So that's a dangerous team to play."

And without Jordan in the lineup, the Pistons will be an even more dangerous team to face. Nonetheless, Collins is looking long range and doesn't want to leave anything to chance.

"We've got 30 games-plus to play and we can't let this stretch of seven games ruin our season because we don't do what we need to do," Collins said. "We've got to go to Detroit Wednesday and then turn around and play Thursday. But it's not an alarm or anything like that. I don't want any bells sounding or anything like that. We have to do what's best for us in the long haul if we are going to make the playoffs."

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