- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2002

The Wizards are down to a prayer and a fragile right knee.
The prayer is dispensed in behalf of a playoff berth, if not the right knee of Michael Jordan.
Hope has been placed on the day-to-day list on Fun Street, the late-season math too grim to contemplate.
Hope received a slight lift as the Wizards defeated the Juwan Howard-led Nuggets 103-87 last night.
It was Howard's first visit to his old home since being traded to the Mavericks 13 months ago. It must have seemed like old times to Howard. His team lost, as usual, and the crowd booed him out of habit.
The Nuggets could have been called lifeless, except Mike Evans, the team's outgoing coach, picked up a technical foul in the first quarter.
The home team also was encouraged by the news in Indianapolis, where the Pistons downed the Pacers 96-77.
The Wizards are three games behind the Pacers in the loss column and one game behind in the season series. The two teams meet one more time this season, in Tony Cheng's neighborhood on April 14, if the game matters by then.
As Wizards coach Doug Collins put it: "What we have to do now is win and hope we get a little help along the way."
The Wizards are left with 11 games, seven at home, and the wonder of how it all slipped away after the All-Star break. They had a 26-21 record at the time, a victory over the Kings in hand, and a conviction that they would be among the eight postseason contingents from the Eastern Conference.
One bum knee later, the Wizards are up against the offseason. The Wizards are 7-17 since the NBA All-Star Game, and the surgically repaired Jordan is not himself. He hit the wall amid the festivities in Philadelphia, plus the side of the iron on a breakaway dunk attempt on Broad Street. The right knee was hurting. He lasted to the back-to-back meetings with the Heat in late February before making a date with a white jacket. The white jacket might as well have been a white flag.
The Wizards have no one to blame but Jordan's 39-year-old legs and Ron Artest's elbow. It was Artest who broke two of Jordan's ribs last summer. The recovery process cost Jordan six weeks and contributed to the team's 2-9 start this season. Five of the losses were at home to teams of modest quality: the Warriors, Sonics, Bucks, Jazz and Hornets.
Each game might have gone the other way after Jordan and the Wizards found their legs, team chemistry and sense of professionalism in December. The result was a nine-game winning streak and the team's best basketball of the season.
Jordan scored 51 points against the Hornets in late December, then 45 points against the Nets two nights later and then he wiped the glass clean with Ron Mercer's shot late in the game against the Bulls. The three games stirred talk around the NBA, mostly about the player looking to pin the first defeat ever on Father Time. Jordan wasn't what he was. He wasn't too bad either.
Father Time eventually caught up to Jordan, the original concern going into the 82-game season, and jarred the ill-equipped Wizards as well. The Wizards played hard during Jordan's 12-game absence. They also exhibited a tentativeness in the waning minutes of tight games. They lost four games by five or fewer points in that stretch.
Jordan is back now, though in shell form, with understated goals and no capacity to rescue the franchise from another appointment in the lottery. Jordan has become a redundancy, relegated to being a role player on a team of role players.
So after 71 games, the rest appears to be bookkeeping, Jordan's as well as the team's. The team has improved by 14 games from last season, with further adjustments on the way.
The Wizards are not out of it just yet, just close enough to the expiration date that talk of the playoffs is a whisper. To have a chance, they have to win their seven remaining games at home and find at least one victim on the road.
Unfortunately, the Wizards are done with the Howard-led Nuggets, perhaps the most anemic team in the NBA at the moment.
Even worse, Jordan is not expected to unpack his cape. The cape requires two legs, not one.


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