Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Key to Wizards’ Magic Lies With Role Players, Not MJ

DOWN TO CHINATOWN Key to Wizards’ Magic Lies With Role Players, Not MJ By Eric Kim

What is it with the Wizards? First, they start off ice cold. Then they ride an incredible nine-game winning streak, staking their claim as the hot team in the East. Now they are mired in injury and a four-game losing streak. Even worse, Michael Jordan has had two consecutive poor outings. What are we to expect from this streaky team?

In the short run, Jordan will get a war hero’s welcome in Chicago tomorrow and then drop 60 points against the team he made. In the long run though, the Wiz should get enough wins to make the playoffs based on the weak East as well as the way their role players have stepped up in three of the past four games.

I understand if you think I’m crazy after New Jersey absolutely pulverized them by 44 points on Wednesday. The same Washington team that embarrassed the Nets on New Year’s Eve got medicine shoved down their throats in the Meadowlands.

Jordan, who scored 45 points in the first matchup, sat on the bench for the entire second half, where he witnessed the worst loss of his professional career. One game after MJ admitted, “I stunk it up,” against the Spurs, he could do nothing but watch as Jason Kidd gave one more reason for closet Nets fans to come out. But any game where one team shoots a perfect 13 for 13 to start, can be considered an anomaly.

When untimely injuries to Rip Hamilton, Courtney Alexander and Christian Laettner put the playoff dream on hold temporarily, it forced the Wizards to go deeper into their scary National Basketball Development League-quality bench. Washington role players were actually getting the ball on offense, as their fearless leader, Jordan, needed to pass to someone. Even more painful was that they had to face the best of the West and East in the Bucks, Timberwolves, Spurs and Nets in their last four games.

So, it is not a surprise that the Wiz have lost their last four games. However, what is surprising about these past four games is that an unlikely cast of characters has emerged out of the abyss to complement his Airness, who has other things – like a divorce – on his mind.

Against the Spurs on Tuesday, Jordan was anything but Jordan, as he shot a rancid 5-for-21 from the field and missed crucial free throws down the stretch. However, for the sellout crowd at MCI Center, the Spurs game proved to be very exciting as Washington’s role players, instead of Jordan, almost led the charge to comeback. Former Hoya Jahidi White and Popeye Jones managed to keep Tim Duncan in check as well as the overrated David Robinson. And Hubert Davis’ shots were going in.

First, I have to give credit to White, who bears a resemblance to former boxing champ Sonny Liston. With Brendan Haywood making noise for surprise Rookie of the Year, I brushed off White as an overweight big man.

However, with 10 points and a career-high 19 boards against San Antonio and overall good play recently, White has retaken his starting job and displayed some of the promise that made him the 43rd pick overall in the 1998 draft.

The 290-pound White was constantly around the rim and showed Haywood that he also has a few tricks up his sleeve. His surprising play puts him third on the list of the best former Hoya big men currently in the NBA, ahead of Patrick Ewing and overrated Jerome Williams.

Meanwhile, Popeye “Shrek” Jones looks firmly entrenched at the power forward position, leading the team with almost eight boards a game and providing a solid defensive presence. It’s a good thing, too, because No. 1 pick Kwame Brown may need five years or more before he turns into the second coming of Kevin Garnett. Jones, a journeyman forward does not remind anyone of former Bullet/Wizard frontcourt stars Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Rasheed Wallace or even Otis Thorpe, but his heart and hustle are qualities new to MCI Center.

While Jahidi and Popeye haven’t exactly reached household-name status like Jordan, they’ve shown humility and a blue-collar mentality on a team that boasts a history of young, spoiled brats (e.g. Webber and Howard). Even though they’ll never reach superstardom in the New Brats Association, they’ve brought the stability and dependability consistent with Jordan’s values.

Stepping in for Washington’s injured guards has mainly been Hubert Davis, another journeyman shooter. Davis, who’s been tossed around New York, Toronto and Dallas, has finally found a team that appreciates his deadly shooting. One of three UNC graduates on the Wizards, Davis had a season-high 22 points, including two three-pointers, against the Spurs and almost made up for Jordan’s rare miscues.

Proving that there is life after Michael and Rip, Washington’s role players have shown lately that they can contribute to the team, especially on the offensive side. This is a good sign for Jordan, who now feels a little more comfortable passing the ball. Once Hamilton returns, Jahidi and Popeye will probably not be getting the ball as often. However, they’ll be waiting and ready to be called upon.

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