- The Washington Times - Friday, March 22, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY With their 94-79 loss to the Utah Jazz last night at the Delta Center, the Washington Wizards' season has been reduced to 13 games that will decide whether they will play in the postseason. And as they attempt to scratch and claw their way into the playoffs for the first time since 1997, coach Doug Collins wants his young players to savor this experience and learn valuable lessons from it.
"You are starting to see a sense of urgency and a sense of purpose," Collins said last night prior to the Wizards (32-37) game with the Utah Jazz, the final game on their nine-day, six-game West Coast road trip. "I know that when you get into the playoffs it's always fun for the coach because you know the players are going to be ready then.
"Sometimes during the regular season you have to sort of drag them along a little bit. But at this stage of the season guys see the end. I mean, we're under 30 days now. The guys have made the commitment that they are going to do everything they can to make the playoffs and that's our whole goal."
Michael Jordan, who hadn't played here since hitting the historic jumper that sealed his sixth championship with Chicago in 1998, scored 11 points on four of 12 shooting in his second game back from knee surgery that sidelined him for 12 games.
Karl Malone led the Jazz (37-31) with 23 points and eight rebounds. John Stockton added 19 points and handed out a game-high seven assists.
But the Jazz held the Wizards to just two field goals in the third quarter and led by as many as 16 points in the fourth quarter on the way to a relatively easy victory. Richard Hamilton led the Wizards with 14 points but was just 2-for-11 from the field. Washington made just 33.8 percent of its field goals (26-of-77). And when the Wizards weren't missing badly, Utah was blocking the Wizards' shots. Utah finished with 13 rejections
Despite the relative success of this road trip (3-3) the remainder of their schedule is a brutal as any in the league. In the remaining three weeks the Wizards will play Western Conference powers Dallas and the Los Angeles Lakers. They've also got a pair of games remaining against Philadelphia and Milwaukee, the Eastern Conference finalists last season, as well as meetings with Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey and crucial games with Charlotte and Indiana, teams vying with the Wizards for the eighth and last spot in the Eastern Conference.
One thing that it appears that the Wizards might not have to concern themselves with is the health of Jordan's right knee, which was operated on last month. Jordan, who returned to the lineup on Wednesday against Denver, didn't experience any swelling in the knee during the team's flight to Salt Lake City following the game.
Jordan returned from his Feb. 27 surgery ahead of schedule to score seven points in 16 minutes after missing 12 games while recovering.
After the Denver game, Jordan, who was expected to return at the earliest this Sunday when the Wizards played at Toronto, said that the knee was fine, and he added that the time off actually allowed the tendinitis in his left knee which has bothered him for most of the season to heal as well.
Interestingly enough, Jordan said that he was not concerned with getting back into the starting lineup any time soon. He did not start last night, marking the second game in a row that he has come off the bench. This might change on Sunday, but for now the Wizards and Jordan are content to have their best player coming off the bench.
"My ego doesn't need for me to start," Jordan said. "I'm fine coming off the bench right now and helping these guys by drawing a double-team or making a pass."
NBA commissioner David Stern attended last night's game, marking the first time he had been in the Delta since 1998. Stern, who is attending games in various NBA cities as the regular season winds down, has at times been critical of Washington's franchise. Yesterday, though, Stern commented on the Wizards improved play this season with Jordan in tow.
"It's certainly nice to see them feel good about themselves," Stern said." Doug Collins has done a marvelous job and is not getting enough credit for it."
He will if they make the playoffs.

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