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When Mike's away, will Jordanaires play?
by Peter Brewington / March 3, 2002

This could be a really good thing.

Not only is Michael Jordan’s knee injury not as serious as first feared but it gives quality playing time to the Jordanaires, that unheralded bunch of guys that helped the Wizards to a 26-21 record at the All-Star break.

Jordan underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee Wednesday. As Jordan’s doctor got the knife out, the entire Washington area held its collective breath. The report came back fairly positive: Jordan’s career is not over as some feared. Maybe, just maybe, he could be back by the end of March.

Huge collective sigh.

That night the Jordanaires put on their game faces and went to work in a 105-101 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. No. 1 draft pick Kwame Brown, 19, flashed his promise with six points on three nice baskets off a dunk, 18-foot swish, and sweet baseline move.

The 6-10, 260-pound Thomas, who has barely played in his two NBA years since coming out of Syracuse, showed positive energy with eight points, five rebounds and three blocks. His scoring was one off his career high. Tyronn Lue ran the offense like a leader. Even Courtney Alexander, who is often out of control, nailed a few Js. Chris Whitney had 19 points and 11 assists.

And Richard Hamilton, who is way too good to be lumped into the Jordanaire category, was his usual lethal self, scoring 31 points and making 11 of 19 from the field.

At one point the average age of the guys on the court was 22.8. Pups, you’d call them. But they sped up the tempo and made it a game against the hottest team in the league.

“I told the guys that basketball is a great team game. Our guys did a lot of that tonight,” said coach Doug Collins. “We’ll grow from this. We’ll get better.” The baby Wizards showed signs of being a solid team that can spread its wings and fly even without Michael. “We went out and executed for the most part. We knew we could compete with those guys,” said Whitney.

The 30-year-old Whitney has assumed the role of calm veteran and team spokesman in Michael’s absence. He says the look and style of play will change. “With Michael we knew we had guy we could go through. With a young team we can get out there and run.”

The Wizards looked solid without big men Brendan Haywood (sore knee) and Jahidi White (shoulder strain). Translation: the 7-0, 266-pound Haywood and 6-9, 290-pound White are two more guys whose contributions will increase and whose size gives the Wizards the look of a balanced team. The Wizards continue to tumble in the standings, but for now optimism reigns as the Jordanaires shined as an opening act.

“If we continue to play that we’ll be fine,” said Whitney, who was especially happy for the 6-11 Brown, whose 20th birthday is coming up March 10. “Kwame was great. He was aggressive. He went after loose balls. I’m happy for him,” said Whitney.

Jordan’s injury has already had an effect on NBC, which dropped its broadcast of a March 3 Wizards-Orlando game. If the Jordanaires keep playing this entertaining ball, the network will be back. Although having Michael back will definitely help.

Peter Brewington is a former USA Today sportswriter and a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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