- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 9, 2003

At times this season, the bass-heavy rap music in the Washington Wizards' locker room has been so loud that words were barely audible.
This was not the case, however, following Friday night's deflating 85-82 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. No music blared, and most players left the somber surroundings as quickly as possible. Ultimately, only three remained.
Christian Laettner stood quietly in front of his stall and answered every question. Larry Hughes, swimming in an oversized Minneapolis Lakers throwback jersey, slumped on a chair in front of his locker. And also lingering was Michael Jordan, who never speaks in hushed tones when it comes to discussing the outcome of a game.
"For me, it's frustrating because I have a lot more desire to finish strong than some of these other guys," said Jordan, who will retire at season's end. "It's easier to say wait until next year, when maybe the situation starts over fresh again. But for me it's not. I go back upstairs [to the teams front office], and I'll be watching them play and more or less sending some messages down to the locker room."
There was so much in the balance that Washington's perfunctory performance was horribly disappointing. The loss dropped the Wizards (30-32) one game behind the Bucks in the race for the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff spot. More importantly, it gave the Bucks a 2-1 advantage in head-to-head meetings, the first tiebreaker should the teams finish in a deadlock.
As Jordan talked about the Wizards' remaining 20 games, he sounded much like a man coming to grips with the fact that his unparalleled career could end before the postseason.
"Yeah, things are getting short, and it makes these types of games, when you lose, ask [yourself], 'Are we ever going to get over the hump?'" Jordan said. "We're fighting an uphill battle. We've got a short time and one more night to study before, you know, the test comes. Then the next thing you know, you've got to take that test, and we have not responded well."
When Jordan played for the Chicago Bulls, it often seemed as if he could will them to victory. But the Wizards have come up short way too often this season for him to do that. It may not be any different today when the Wizards play the New York Knicks in Jordan's final trip to Madison Square Garden.
A five-game winning streak in early January had the Wizards talking about the playoffs and even a homecourt advantage. Since then, they have won back-to-back games just once, and their longest winning streak is three.
Perhaps even more telling, they have dropped three of their last four games to teams with losing records, with the lone win against the typically terrible Los Angeles Clippers.
In the Eastern Conference, only New Jersey (26), Indiana (25) and New Orleans (23) have won more home games than the Wizards' 21. However, they'll have to play 13 of their final 20 on the road, where they have won just nine times all season.
Jordan, no doubt, has considered all this. Despite a recent bruised thigh and back spasms, the 40-year-old legend continues to play at an extremely high level. His physical problems made Jordan's 27 points and nine rebounds against the Bucks even more impressive as some of his teammates sleepwalked through their biggest game of the season.

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