- The Washington Times - Monday, January 28, 2002

The Wizards are the uninvited nuisance in the Eastern Conference.
They are not a pretty team, just persistent and purposeful.
They have not gone away after 41 games, the halfway point in the regular season. They have a 21-20 record, two more victories than last season. It follows a 2-9 start and injuries to two starters, Richard Hamilton and Christian Laettner.
Counting Brendan Haywood's absence at the start of the season, the Wizards have had their full complement of essential parts for only 12 games. The work merits an A-plus from Doug Collins, the coach who has earned a locker room degree in psychology.
No fancy prodding is necessary with Popeye Jones, who leads with his heart. Jones plays below the rim. Often, he winds up on the floor, in pretzel form, all elbows and knees. His ears are fairly pronounced, too. He is a good listener, the consummate professional, who embodies the essence of the team more than Michael Jordan.
There is only one Jordan, after all. The rest of the roster is modest, excluding Hamilton, who was having an All-Star season until he came down with a terminal groin.
Jordan, the team's player-boss, has reinvented himself out of necessity to his 38 years. He does not have Tourette's syndrome. It only seems that way following his second or third pump-fake, the excellent footwork, the sleight of hand with the ball and the up-and-under finish.
You want some of that?
Dan Majerle, who wears a good tan, picked up three fouls in three minutes in the second quarter against Jordan on Saturday night. Shawn Marion was equally ineffective against Jordan, except for one blocked shot in the second half.
Jordan has found his legs and shooting touch after an uneven start and a couple of attention-getting blocked shots from Paul Pierce. Jordan, among his other attributes, is said to have a memory like an elephant, if Pierce is interested.
Coach John Lucas made the point last week after the Cavaliers lost to the Wizards. It was the second meeting of the season between the teams. The first was Jordan's "we stink" game in Cleveland.
"I try to tell people he's got a long memory, and they don't believe me," Lucas said.
The head game cuts differently with Courtney Alexander, who has decided to adjust his attitude again. The alteration resulted in seven points, five rebounds and two assists in 18 minutes in the last game.
The Suns came to town with the Two Jakes, Voskuhl and Tsakalidis, plus the player who used to be Anfernee Hardaway. The one Jake, Tsakalidis, finished with more shot attempts in 14 minutes than Hardaway in 30 minutes.
Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown.
The egalitarian spirit was useful to the home team, up by 16 points after three quarters and well within its comfort level against another mid-level team of the NBA.
The Wizards know what they are. They are a halfcourt team that limits its turnovers to 13 a game and rebounds by committee.
"When your margin for error is slim, you're not good enough to throw the ball all over the gym," Collins said.
By caring for the ball, the Wizards restrict the opposition's fastbreak opportunities.
The Wizards, notably Hubert Davis, Tyronn Lue and Chris Whitney, are able shooters from the 3-point line. The Wizards also are competent at the free throw line, an underappreciated element of the game.
None of this necessarily excites the masses, although Washington begs to differ.
Washington has earned the right to be impressed after the Chris Webber-Juwan Howard experiment. Webber and Howard used to celebrate after dunking the ball in the first quarter. They would bump chests, make ugly faces, do the twist and shout and then forget to win the game.
Jordan's Wizards resist the urge to be overly impressed with themselves. They make a play and eschew the histrionics. They compete with dignity and embrace the task ahead.
To their credit, the Wizards remain in the playoff mix, and ever hopeful, more so once they become whole again with the return of Hamilton and Laettner.

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