- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2003

The breaks just aren't going the Washington Wizards' way these days, and as a result their hopes of making the playoffs are taking a beating.

Last night at MCI Center, the Wizards first lost Michael Jordan to a back injury, and not long after the game against the Toronto Raptors slipped away 89-86.

Jordan, who scored four points in 15 minutes, is questionable for tonight's home game against the Los Angeles Clippers. He left in the second quarter with back spasms and was on his way home before the game was over.

Jordan will have his back evaluated by team doctors, and a decision on whether he will play tonight will be made before the game. Jordan and Brendan Haywood are the only two players on the roster to have appeared in all 60 games this season.

Not coincidentally, the man Jordan was assigned to guard, Voshon Lenard, punished the Wizards down the stretch. Lenard scored all 14 of his points in the fourth quarter.

"We looked at him on tape, and we knew that when he comes in that he's not passing," Wizards coach Doug Collins said of the hot-shooting reserve guard. "He took 15 shots in 25 minutes. … We just couldn't get him stopped."

Jerry Stackhouse led the Wizards with 21 points. However, it was Stackhouse who failed to get off a good shot in the waning seconds that could have sent the game into overtime.

"I take responsibility for this one because the ball was in my hands," Stackhouse said. "It was a situation where we could have gone up and won the game. I feel that it's a play that I should make. Everybody played well and did what they had to do in spite of 'M' being out. We've had guys out all year. But tonight we blew a ton of opportunities.

"I know I had quite a few opportunities that I wish I could have back. I blew it tonight. Hopefully, I won't tomorrow."

With the Wizards down 87-84 following a layup by Vince Carter (24 points), Washington's Christian Laettner notched a pair of free throws with 50.7 seconds left. And after Laettner grabbed a rebound, the Wizards used their last timeout with 25 seconds to play.

However, Stackhouse missed a layup that was stoutly challenged by Antonio Davis, and Haywood could not corral the rebound. Carter finally reeled it in and, after calling a timeout, nailed a pair of free throws with 14.9 to play.

Needing a 3-pointer to tie, the Wizards never got one off as Stackhouse turned the ball over with 1.4 remaining.

The loss left the Wizards (29-31) with the ninth-best record in the Eastern Conference, trailing Milwaukee by a full game. Washington's record is identical to last season's after 60 games. Toronto (19-38) has won three of four against Washington.

It was around this time last season that Jordan started having troubles with his right knee, which eventually required surgery and shortened his season to 60 games.

The back spasms come at a time when he's been playing more minutes than at any point in the two seasons since he ended his retirement. Before last night's game, Jordan had played at least 41 minutes in five of the team's last six. This included two overtime games in which he played 50 and 52 minutes.

The injuries to the Wizards are starting to take a toll. Last night they regained Larry Hughes after a six-game absence because of a sprained ankle. Bryon Russell, who played well early on, left the game in the third quarter and never returned when Toronto's Jerome Williams hit him in the eye.

Washington is still without starting point guard Tyronn Lue, and center Jahidi White apparently is in no condition to contribute. Since being activated on Feb. 27 after a season-long absence following knee surgery, White has not played in any of the Wizards' four games.

"There's no sympathy in basketball," Collins said. "As a coach, I will never use it as an excuse. That's why we practice; that's why we work. People get hurt, unfortunately, and you have to go out and play.

Making the third start of his career, rookie Juan Dixon again struggled at the point, finishing with four points, one assist and three turnovers in 18 minutes. Dixon was 0-for-5 from the floor.

Hughes, who finished with 15 points, four assists and six rebounds, will be reinserted as the starting point guard tonight against the Clippers.

Washington was 0-for-11 from 3-point range and turned the ball over 20 times leading to 26 points for the Raptors. Carter was partly responsible for the turnover total, recording a career-high six steals.

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