- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2002

MIAMI There were a lot of words tossed around to describe why Michael Jordan sat out the final six minutes, 27 seconds of the Wizards' fifth loss in a row last night, a 92-80 setback to the suddenly potent Miami Heat.
But there was one term that caused ears to perk up when Wizards coach Doug Collins used it last night in describing the condition of Jordan's ailing right knee, which was drained before the game.
Collins, after consulting with a Heat doctor, was told that Jordan's 39-year-old knee drained for the third time this season could now be stricken with arthritis, which at this stage is far worse than the tendinitis and frequent swelling Jordan has had to endure this season.
"I was told that it's more of an arthritic condition," Collins said after the Wizards could muster just 13 points in the fourth quarter. "It happens more now because of all the activity that he's doing. Michael is out there trying to compete on one leg."
Known to have a high tolerance for pain, Jordan was at times limping during the game. And when the Wizards, who led most of the game, returned to the court in the fourth quarter trailing by 78-74 without Jordan, it was clear that Jordan, who finished with just nine points his second single-digit performance of the season was done for the night.
Jordan has said that he wanted to play both this season and the next before retiring at the age of 40. Now, though, for the first time this season, Jordan sounded unsure about the future.
"I'm getting old," said Jordan, half smiling. "It's a sign obviously that things are coming to a closure. There was a time when back-to-backs were easy to bounce back from. I don't want to ignore it too much. My competitive nature is to go against the grain. Tonight my body won. I have to be very cautious and understand what my body is saying."
Jordan did not recant that he wanted to play next year, but he was not as cavalier about returning as he has been in recent days when the question had surfaced.
"I think there are some things that need to be talked about with doctors in terms of what I need to be doing in the offseason. But it's so far in advance for me to be thinking about that right now. I just want to focus on the moment and when the season ends that's when I think about things."
Last night Jordan said there was the possibility that he might accept being placed on the injured list, which would force him to miss at least five games. By the same token, he did not completely lrule out being in the lineup when the struggling Wizards face another resurgent team on Wednesday, Portland.
"That could be a very strong possibility," Jordan responded when asked if he could be placed on the injured list. "We'll see how I feel the next couple days to see how I feel and make my decision from that. So I probably will have to sit out a couple of games judging by the way I feel now."
Said Heat coach Pat Riley: "He looked like he was ailing a little bit tonight. Everybody is going to have injuries. He probably needs a little rest. I think he has been absolutely remarkable in the fact that he has played well all season and missed only a few games."
Jordan's worsening condition couldn't come at a worse time for the Wizards (27-28) who dropped below .500 for the first time this season since they were 19-20 on Jan. 22.
When Jordan left the game the Wizards had relinquished a lead that had been as high as 12 points. But with Jordan out of the lineup, Washington looked lost. The team scored just 13 points in the fourth quarter while the Heat ran wild for 27.
Tyronn Lue led the Wizards with 21 points. Christian Laettner, starting in front of Popeye Jones (swollen elbow) finished with 15 points but scored just five in the final three quarters.
Richard Hamilton, who now will need to step up his scoring as Jordan mends, finished with eight points on four of 15 shooting. Hamilton's output was just his third single-digit performance of the year.
Meanwhile, Miami placed six players in double figures, led by Rod Strickland's 16-point, 11-assist double-double. The victory was Miami's 15th in it's last 20 games. Miami also got a double-double from Alonzo Mourning (11 points, 12 rebounds) and the Heat made 52 percent of their field goals compared with 43 percent for the Wizards.
The victory evened the season series at 2-2. It was Miami's 13th victory against the Wizards in their last 15 meetings.
But the Wizards have more pressing concerns right now.
"We just have to keep working and play together," Chris Whitney said. "We have to put pressure on ourselves as a team, but that doesn't mean you have to go out and play scared or play nervous."


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