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Published: Monday, 11/5/2001

New Jordan still stands out among awful Wizards

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Some nights you get Michael Jordan.

That's good.

And some nights you get ... Michael Jordan.

That's bad.

If the Washington Wizards qualify for the playoffs this year, then Jordan becomes even greater than his legend. Jordan faces a monumental task in his comeback with the Wizards.

I didn't realize the Wizards were this bad until I watched Jordan's new team against the Detroit Pistons last night at the Palace. Observing a team in person exposes all the warts and puts everything in perspective.

This is what I learned: If the Wizards are playoff worthy, all 29 teams should be in the playoffs. Jordan at age 28 couldn't help this bunch.

Playing his first set of back-to-back games since returning to the NBA, Jordan didn't have the energy to carry the Wizards last night. He looked every bit of 38.

In Game 4 of his second comeback, Jordan didn't have the legs or the lift to rekindle old memories or create new ones. He looked old and tired.

Playing only 22 minutes, Jordan didn't get off the bench in the fourth quarter of Washington's 100-78 loss to the Pistons.

He led the Wizards with 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds, but Detroit's victory was so dominant that Jordan's output was comparable to using an umbrella to fight off Hurricane Michelle. Jordan's Wizards never had a chance.

“I felt good. I just felt overall we didn't come prepared to play and that is something as a young team we're going to have to eliminate,” said Jordan, who is 2-2 in his comeback.

It's still early in the season, but I suspect that the hardest thing for basketball fans to accept about Jordan's unexpected return is that MJ is not the player he once was. Not even close.

To enjoy the new Jordan, you have to watch him with an open mind. Accept him for what he has become.

Erase all the images you've ever had of Jordan wagging his tongue, waving his teammates to one side of the court, and elevating and dunking over an entire team. He's no longer capable of those flights of fancy.

The new Jordan - excuse me, the old Jordan - rarely dunks. He plays on the ground - the better to conserve his energy - and shoots from the perimeter a lot.

There's nothing wrong with Jordan. He's averaging more than 20 points a game. His scoring average will increase as his conditioning improves. He's still one of the elite.

Jordan's return is fantastic for the NBA. And frustrating.

The bad thing about last night's contest - as for most of Washington's games this year, I suspect - is that the focus of each game will be on Jordan.

You see what I'm saying? Last night Jordan was the best player on a bad team. The best player on the court was Jerry Stackhouse of the Pistons. Stackhouse scored a game-high 28 points in only 27 minutes.

I'd much rather see Jordan make his comeback with Utah and attempt to win a championship with Karl Malone and John Stockton, or take his talents to play with David Robinson and Tim Duncan in San Antonio.

Jordan playing for the Wizards seems like such a waste. For MJ. And for us.

John Harris is a Blade sports columnist. E-mail him at jharris@theblade.com.



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