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COMMENTARY

Air of Success

(Published February 11, 2002)

By BRIAN BRADFORD

Staff Writer

The intangible difference Michael Jordan has brought to the Washington Wizards is his "swagger," according to teammate Popeye Jones: "Swagger in the locker room, swagger on the practice court and that rolls over into the game."

That Wizards swagger has been staggering this season. The Wizards, who won only 19 games last season, already have posted a 26-21 record heading into the mid-season break.

Jordan has brought pride and respect back to D.C. area basketball fans. The expectations of the fans and players have soared well above pre-season hopes of making the playoffs. The Wizards are now expected to go deep into the post season and contend for the Eastern Conference championships. Last week’s win over the Sacramento Kings sent a message to the NBA that the Wizards are more than illusionary hocus pocus.

The Kings came to town carrying the league’s best record while the Wizards were looking for a good team to gauge their progress against. Washington’s team is a lot less athletic than the fast-paced Kings, but good defense and a minimal amount of turnovers kept the home team in control of the game from start to finish.

No one is standing around watching Jordan anymore. In the Sacramento win, Popeye Jones had 18 points and 15 rebounds, Chris Whitney added 15 points and eight rebounds, and Richard Hamilton threw in 33 points. The Wizards are now comfortable playing their roles. Since Hamilton’s return from the injured reserve list, the Wizards are 5-0.

Most analysts believe that while both conferences are competitive, the best three or four teams in the league are in the West.

"They’re just two different levels of basketball," said P.J. Carlissimo, former coach of the Golden State Warriors. Washington is beginning to be a reasonable argument when possible challengers to the Lakers are mentioned. Jordan and the Wizards face the World champion Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday in LA.

After a disastrous start, the Wizards worked some magic and turned around a 2–9 season that was headed for the dumps.

Now they’re soaring.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator