- The Washington Times - Monday, March 10, 2003

NEW YORK It's the center of the basketball universe, the ultimate stage, but unfortunately for Michael Jordan his final appearance at Madison Square Garden yesterday turned into a one-man show. And he didn't like it one bit.
Jordan's performance was impressive 39 points, eight rebounds, a bruised chin and several floor burns from diving after loose balls but he alone couldn't do enough to avoid a crucial 97-96 loss for the Washington Wizards against the New York Knicks.
"It's going to take a lot better play from other players on this team and not be a one-man situation," said Jordan, who helped lead the Wizards back from a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit. "It's very disappointing that a 40-year-old man has more desire than 25-, 26- and 23-year-old men, diving for loose balls, busting his chin. It's disappointing that I'm doing everything I can for this team to make the playoffs and it's not reciprocated from the other players on this team.
"I mean, I can look in the locker room and see a couple guys that are willing to do that. But I can look and see a lot more that won't do that. Until the guys let go of that macho, cool, attitude, it's going to be tough for Washington to win anything."
The loss dropped the Wizards two games out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and it pulled the New York Knicks to within striking distance. However, because the teams near the bottom of the conference have demonstrated that they can beat the Wizards, Washington (30-33), with 19 games left, are in danger of imploding and failing to make the postseason.
Surprisingly, Jordan wasn't the only Wizard grumbling after the game.
Jerry Stackhouse had plenty to say following his virtually silent game yesterday as he got off just seven shots, scored only five points and was torched by the Knicks' Allan Houston for 28 points at the other end of the court.
"I can't do anything if I don't have the ball," said Stackhouse, after making just one of seven shots and matching his season low point total. "Talk to the coach. I can't do anything if I don't have the ball. They know what I can do. What we're doing right now isn't for me. It's good that MJ is scoring, and that other guys got involved. But that's not how I get involved."
Stackhouse actually got too involved at the defensive end and was shackled with two fouls in the opening minutes that hindered him from playing much defense. The Knicks recognized this and funneled the ball to Houston, who scored 15 points in the first half.
"A guy is constantly attacking, attacking and attacking me on the other end," Stackhouse said. "On the other end I'm running around spacing out on the other side. I've probably got a 30-point career average against Allan Houston and I can't even get the ball in [isolation]. Talk to the coach about it."
Said coach Doug Collins: "Once you let players like Allan Houston get started they're very difficult to stop."
The Wizards, who are 1-3 in their last four games against teams with below .500 records, seem to be regressing. Yesterday they couldn't find a way to beat a team that was just 2-for-18 from the floor in the fourth quarter and scored just 15 points. Other than Jordan, Larry Hughes and Juan Dixon, who both scored 13 points, were the only Wizards to score in double figures.
Jordan said Stackhouse was never the same after he picked up his second foul.
"We need Jerry to score," Jordan said. "But they made Jerry a target. We did everything we could to take some of that pressure off of Jerry but he never got into a defensive rhythm. It was their focus to go right at him. It's important for him to get off more shots, but it's also important for him to focus on the defensive end."
The Wizards trailed almost the entire game and for most of the first half Jordan appeared to be on his own. He single-handedly got them back into the game, which had the look of becoming a blowout, when he scored 15 points in a row and 19 of 21 to help the Wizards trim the Knicks' lead to 56-53 at halftime.
But with five minutes left in the game, New York had built its lead back to 15 points, which enabled the Knicks to survive their horrible fourth quarter that saw them go the final 8:31 without a field goal.
Latrell Sprewell added 20 points for the Knicks, who also received a strong effort from reserve Shandon Anderson, who had 17 points.
It wasn't long ago that the Wizards were talking about controlling their destiny and entertaining thoughts of a homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. However, losses to teams they should beat and overall inconsistency have rendered that irrelevant. Now they have the look of a desperate team, Jordan excluded of course, that does not know how to win.
And things don't get any easier tomorrow when Tracy McGrady, the league's leading scorer, and the Orlando Magic, sixth in the conference standings, visit MCI Center for what is shaping up as a must-win game for the Wizards.
"Now we're behind," Collins said. "First of all we have to win and hope the teams ahead of us lose. Before that wasn't the case. Now we have to. But I don't want to get into that. It's tough enough to think about winning."

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