- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2002

The Wizards have a bad right knee, a five-game losing streak and a suspicion the season is done.
This comes out to: no Michael Jordan, no playoff appearance and no hope in the last 27 games of the regular season.
The Wizards lasted 47 games, 36 more than expected after their 2-9 start. They completed their fall in two weeks, in the eight games following the NBA All-Star Game, beginning with the first one on the West Coast.
The Wizards led the Lakers by 20 points with 7:40 left in the third quarter. They trailed the Lakers by three points after the third quarter. They eventually lost the game, and perhaps a piece of themselves in the den of Zen.
They called it a "lesson" at the time. Now they just might call it one of the notable reference points in the 82-game season.
The collapse in La La Land was one indication of the grimness ahead. The loss at home to the modestly relevant Rockets was another.
Jordan wound up playing on one leg last week, one more than his teammates. Or as coach Doug Collins put it after one of the losses, the team played on "empty."
That diagnosis included the mental as well as the physical, and one play in particular.
Tyrone Nesby left Brian Grant to help Jordan against the penetrating Rod Strickland. The help was redundant, if 7-footer Brendan Haywood, in the vicinity, qualifies as help. Grant hit the open 16-footer with 1.4 seconds left, and the Wizards lost again.
The latest mood-altering development along Fun Street comes with a get-well appeal, assuming Jordan's surgeon is the Jordan of surgeons and the injured list is not permanent. The move covers the last two dates with the Bulls, away and home, after the first two went to Jordan.
Jerry Krause, the Jordan antagonist who broke up the Bulls, just might clear his schedule to be among the witnesses inside United Center Friday night. He was, coincidentally enough, out to lunch the last time Jordan was in Chicago.
The Wizards can't even expect the Bulls to provide a reprieve, not with Jalen Rose and Travis Best now on board to answer Bill Cartwright's whispers.
Jordan's knee is the first casualty of the grind, the team's defense the second. The latter requires hard work, lots of thankless sweat and a hand in the face. The Wizards have left out those steps and instead reduced the process to a plea: "Miss it."
The Wizards also have taken to gulping hard on offense in the fourth quarter. In their last five games, they are averaging only 17.6 points in the final 12 minutes. That is a 70-point pace, hardly enough production.
Richard Hamilton, so effective before tearing his groin in December, is having his reed-thin body tested by the sturdiest elbows around the NBA. The elbows are winning.
Courtney Alexander is buried on the bench again, and Kwame Brown is just off the injured list. The two seemingly take turns with both conditions.
At least Brown's 20th birthday is in 11 days. That is one birthday down in his case, probably another two to go before he is able to justify his lead role in the NBA Draft last June.
The Wizards probably need another 14 victories to be in the playoffs, which appears to be about six or seven too many.
The Wizards pulled out of their early season funk. But this one is worse, more problematic, coming as it does this late in the season around an uncertain Jordan. There is no time to recover from a bout of shakiness. A six-game trip to the West Coast next month is not encouraging, either.
There is no rule against kicking a team while it is down. Most NBA teams, in fact, consider it a duty.
The Wizards have been on both ends, down, up, now down again, and they are running out of season, if not last-second, game-winning shots by Jordan.
He is hurting, the team is hurting, and the prognosis is doubtful.
As it turns out, the cruelest blow to the team was self-administered, accidental though it was. Jordan aggravated his limb after bumping knees with teammate Etan Thomas on the night the Wizards defeated the Kings at home nearly three weeks ago.
That was the good and bad of the season. Ugly soon followed.

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