- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Jerry, Jerry, Jerry.
Can we talk, just you and us?
"Talk to the coach," Stackhouse said after the Knicks defeated the Wizards 97-96 at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.
Right. Talk to the coach.
Stackhouse picked up two early fouls, was held to five points and expressed a lack of defensive interest in Allan Houston.
But talk to the coach.
So it is up to Doug Collins to restore order to a team that is threatening to self-destruct in the final 19 games of the regular season.
"It's good that MJ is scoring, and that other guys got involved," Stackhouse said. "But that's not how I get involved."
It was hard for Stackhouse to be involved after he incurred two early fouls and went to the bench.
Whose fault was that, the coach's?
Stackhouse was left to express a common thought.
NBA players are all about being able to establish a rhythm. Why, some players are obsessed with rhythm.
It is too bad more players are not as obsessed with establishing the rhythm method off the court. Maybe then there would be fewer paternity suits and fewer illegitimate children wondering where daddy is.
Anyway, Stackhouse is unhappy with where he is in the NBA cosmos at the moment, as the latter-day version of Scottie Pippen to Michael Jordan. This is predictable. Stackhouse is no Pippen, starting on defense. He is a scorer who needs the ball in his possession a lot, who functions best in isolation sets.
The Wizards do not run an offense as much as they clear portions of the floor that grant Stackhouse and Jordan the room to maneuver. This is because the Wizards have spent much of the season employing Larry Hughes as a converted point guard. It took Collins more than half the season to recognize that Tyronn Lue was the best of the lot at point guard.
Coincidentally or not, the Wizards played their best basketball of the season with Lue as the starting point guard. With Lue out of the lineup after separating his left shoulder against the Rockets late last month, the Wizards have reverted to their lack of efficiency on offense in the last six games.
The difference between the Wizards with Lue and without him may be only 10 possessions a game, which is sometimes the difference between winning and losing in the NBA. With Lue on the bench, the Wizards have a 2-4 record, all against teams with incriminating records. In three of the losses, the Wizards were limited to 83 points vs. the Heat, 86 points vs. the Raptors and 82 points vs. the Bucks.
It is this stretch that is tormenting the Wizards and prompting the discord.
The Wizards, Stackhouse and Jordan alike, have been reduced to pointing fingers in frustration, either questioning the brain power of Collins in Stackhouse's case or the resolve of the young players in Jordan's case. That is fine, even understandable.
Yet it won't change what the Wizards are. They are a team without a genuine point guard and a consistent low-post presence, arguably the two most important positions in basketball.
A team might be able to compensate for one or the other shortcoming, but to compensate for both on a consistent basis leads to a fragile existence.
Collins and the Wizards undoubtedly expected greater contributions from Kwame Brown and Brendan Haywood going into the season. They did not need either player to be special, just useful on a nightly basis.
Brown, in particular, seemed to be up to the challenge in the beginning. He had 12 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks in the first game of the season against the Raptors. He followed it up with 20 points, six rebounds and six blocks against the Celtics the next night. He had 14 rebounds against the Nets in the third game. Then, almost incrementally, he started to lose his mental edge and eventually lost his niche on the team.
As for Haywood, the team's only 7-footer, he could make even the strong cry.
Last Friday night, in the biggest game of the season for the Wizards, Haywood delivered three rebounds, two fouls, one block and zero points in 18 minutes. There you have it. What more needs to be said?
Stackhouse, like all the Wizards, is entitled to his frustration. He has earned it with a team that has a 30-33 record and is threatening to slip out of the playoff picture.
Stackhouse is further piqued by a trade that has not worked out as originally envisioned in the free-agent year of his contract. Meanwhile, his old team in Detroit is on a 52-win pace, showing no signs of trade-induced slippage.
No one back in September, when the trade was made, could have foreseen the Richard Hamilton-Stackhouse exchange being a negligible development for both parties. The Wizards, like the Pistons, are essentially where they were at this time last season. The record of the Wizards after 63 games last season was 29-34.
Jordan goes back upstairs to run the team after the season, which is a calculation Stackhouse made long before he uttered his me-first proclamation in New York. No, his meltdown probably did not help his cause with securing a fat contract in Washington.
Stackhouse has had his moments this season, and his numbers are competent enough. He has not been the problem. He might not be the solution either. He came into the season as a career 41 percent shooter. He is shooting 41.3 percent this season.
To borrow from Steve Buckhantz, how do you like that? Incidentally, Buckhantz and Phil Chenier, the team's two television broadcasters, and Dave Johnson, the team's radio announcer, are having very strong seasons. Their energy level is sometimes higher than the team's.
A lack of energy has been one of Jordan's recurring criticisms this season.
In recent weeks, Jordan has led the team in floor burns, which is a telling indictment, considering Jordan is 40 years old, has nothing left to prove and has a cranky back.
My, God, fellows, if you can't be like Mike, be like Charles Oakley.
Show some passion. Get mad while the game is in progress instead of after it. Deliver a forearm to someone. Hit the floor after a loose ball.
I know, I know. Lue was injured going to the floor.
Yet that prospect did not dissuade Jordan from going to the floor late in the game against the Knicks, did it? In fact, he went chin first to the floor, and two observations came to mind: His chin did not split open, as it should have, and he dealt with the pain only after cupping the ball with his right hand while looking to pass and then calling a timeout.
Stackhouse cracked Paul Pierce with a forearm in a road game in early January. That feisty display revealed a certain sense of purpose, if only for a night, and it just so happened the Wizards won the game.
No team is expected to be resolute in each of the NBA's 82 games. The season is too long, traveling saps the legs of the players, the flu bug visits a team, and there are injuries.
How many nights can a team expect to be committed? That is hard to quantify. But this is easy: The Wizards are not close to whatever the number is.
The Wizards are pretty good at holding emergency team meetings before returning to the floor to commit the same crimes against basketball.
With a loose ball heading out of bounds late in the game against the Knicks, a number of the Wizards appeared to be frozen. Who went to retrieve it? Yep. The 40-year-old guy. Him.
Go ahead, bury your face in your hands. Shake your head. That is a good imitation of Collins.
Who knows?
Tracy McGrady and the Magic are in town tonight.
Maybe Stackhouse will channel his irritation on them, and maybe Haywood or Brown will have a double-double, and maybe the Wizards will have a few more deflections on defense and a few more floor burns.
Tell you what: Maybe Jordan should open the game on crutches to inspire the Wizards.
Think that would help?
The man is 140 years old, at least that in basketball years, mopping the floor with his body, while too many of his teammates pose for pictures.

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