- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 24, 2002

In his last two games Michael Jordan has put up numbers worthy of an MVP candidate. Against Philadelphia on Tuesday, Jordan went for 30 points and eight rebounds and handed out six assists. One day earlier against Minnesota, he collected a game-high 29 points and pulled down a season-high 14 rebounds.
But it meant nothing. Washington lost both games. Heading into tonight's game with Cleveland (13-28) at MCI Center, the Wizards have lost six of their last seven, have slipped to fifth place in the Atlantic Division and are below .500 (19-20) for the first time since Dec. 16 .
And on several occasions recently, Jordan has had little in reserve in the second half. In a loss to Milwaukee earlier this month, Jordan scored just six of his 22 points in the second half. One night later against Minnesota, Jordan scored just nine of his 35 after intermission.
Jordan will turn 39 next month, and his second-half struggles are a concern. Against Philadelphia, Jordan was unbelievable in the first half. He scored 19 points in the first quarter and by halftime had 28 on 13-for-19 shooting. But Jordan was as cold as a grocer's freezer in the second half. His only basket was an uncontested dunk.
Against the Timberwolves, Jordan was 2-for-15 from the floor for seven points in the second half.
The second half struggles partly have been caused by Richard Hamilton's absence. With Hamilton out with a groin injury, Jordan is the only offensive option on the roster who scares opponents. Hamilton, the league's player of the week before the injury, has missed 16 games and isn't expected back until next week at the earliest.
Asked about Hamilton's uncertain return, Jordan said, "It would be a big help. I think right now [opponents] consider this a one-man team, and they want to take the one guy out of the flow of things. … Teams are basically making sure that any time I have the ball or have an opportunity to penetrate that there are three people near me, and I have to move the ball. This is one time that I hate the zone."
The 76ers, who jumped ahead of the Wizards in the standings with their victory, made up their minds in the second half that they would lock up Jordan and see if anyone else in a Wizards uniform could make them pay.
"In the second half we just zoned up on him and made other people make shots," 76ers guard Allen Iverson said. "They didn't do that."
What is becoming more alarming is the number of minutes Jordan is forced to play, something that can only wear him down. Coach Doug Collins has said repeatedly that if Jordan averages more than 35 minutes a game, it would greatly reduce his chances of playing in all 82 games.
Collins got Jordan's minutes down earlier in the season. However, Jordan has played 40 or more in four of the Wizards' last six games. That includes the team's 44-point loss to New Jersey in which he played just 18 minutes of a game that essentially was over before halftime.
"Got to get his minutes down," Collins said yesterday following practice. "Got to get them down some. I don't want to break him down."
With Hamilton's return date unclear Collins said he's waiting for Hamilton to tell him when he's ready the Wizards could be forced to activate shooting guard Courtney Alexander, so far the team's biggest disappointment.
Alexander, who hasn't appeared in a game since Dec. 27, has been on and off the injured list. He is recovering from a sprained ankle and is not in shape to play. However, Kwame Brown has a hamstring injury and might go on the injured list as soon as today, opening up a spot on the active roster for Alexander.
"We'll see," Collins said. "We've got to find some offense somewhere. Right now we just can't score."

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