- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2002

The Washington Wizards almost certainly will be without Michael Jordan for the third time this season when they play host to the Portland Trail Blazers tomorrow.
Jordan and the rest of his struggling teammates had the day off yesterday following the Wizards' back-to-back losses this weekend at home and on the road against the Miami Heat. Jordan's ailing right knee, which might be arthritic, has become the dominant theme surrounding the Wizards, even overshadowing their five-game losing streak.
This probably won't change anytime soon, mostly because the Wizards are seriously considering putting Jordan on the injured list, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Jordan has been all but ruled out of tomorrow's game the decision will be made either today or tomorrow and the thinking within the organization is that the Wizards have no shot at reaching the playoffs without Jordan and that now might be the time to shut him down for the five games.
Jordan said the injured list "could be a very strong possibility."
Jordan hasn't been on the injured list since his left foot sidelined him for 64 games during the 1985-86 season.
In all likelihood, Jordan will travel to Chicago over the next few days to have his knee examined by orthopedist John Hefferon.
Jordan's injury places the Wizards in a precarious situation. Even though they would not be among the eight teams in the Eastern Conference playoffs were they to begin today, Washington was just two victories behind No.6 seed Toronto heading into last night's game.
The Wizards are 0-2 this season without Jordan, having lost at San Antonio and Detroit. But even with a gimpy Jordan in the lineup the Wizards have played poor defense.
"Defense, more than anything else, is our biggest problem," Wizards coach Doug Collins said. "We just haven't been able to stop anybody lately."
Sunday's loss to Miami is a perfect example. Typically a poor shooting team (43 percent) that has been winning with defense and grit, the Heat made 52 percent of their field goals. And with the game on the line in the fourth quarter Miami had its best quarter in the 92-80 victory, scoring 27 points Washington scored just 13 and using a 21-6 run to send the Wizards to their fifth loss in a row and seventh in eight games since the All-Star break.
There are offensive problems as well. With teams sensing Jordan was less than 100 percent, they have loaded up the defense on Richard Hamilton. As a result, Hamilton is having a harder time getting high percentage shots most notably the mid-range jumpers he used to get off the baseline curl.
Despite the ever-growing list of problems, the Wizards, almost to a man, are confident they can handle the adversity. They say this season has been a growing process, one that has seen them weather a 2-9 start and an eight-game losing streak en route to matching their franchise record for consecutive wins (nine) and positioning themselves to make a playoff run.
"We know that we have been down before like this and we started to play much better basketball, and we can get on a winning streak at any time," point guard Chris Whitney said. "There's still a lot of work to be done but we're going to keep working. That's the way we got out of the first slump. We kept working and we stayed together."
To make the playoffs, the Wizards must start winning some games where they are the underdogs, like tomorrow against Portland, a game they would struggle to win even if Jordan played.
"That's what's ahead for us," Collins said. "I said earlier that winning games in the second half of the season would be harder than winning in the first half."
And it looks like it's about to get even harder.

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