So much for the Washington Wizards drawing inspiration from their new boss. A few hours after president of basketball operations Michael Jordan tried to light a fire by calling them underachievers, the Wizards were blown away last night at MCI Center by the similarly struggling Dallas Mavericks.
"It hurts, especially on a day like this," Juwan Howard said after the 104-86 loss. "It's been a great day, something great for the city, this franchise. Then we have to top it off and spoil the occasion. . . . Hopefully, we can find a way to turn this around. It's embarrassing."
Almost as surprising as how easily the Wizards (12-28) lost their fifth straight game was the lack of fans in attendance at the game. There was no noticeable walkup crowd, although President Clinton arrived about the time most of the 11,358 angry fans were leaving.
Clinton and Jordan each was applauded heartily and flanked Wizards owner Abe Pollin for a picture.
The crowd began to thin with slightly more than two minutes left and the Mavericks (13-25) having ensured victory with a 44-16 run that started early in the third quarter.
Before the game, Jordan talked to the team for about five minutes.
"He told us that if everybody did their jobs, there wouldn't be any problems," said power forward Michael Smith. "Everybody's excited, so much in respect of him, anxious to get this turned around.
Howard called Jordan "the god of basketball."
After the game, Jordan went into the locker area but apparently met only with General Manager Wes Unseld.
It took less than one half for the inevitable sign to pop up: "Suit up Mike."
That was when the game still was competitive, when Jordan had seen much to encourage him. Heartening was Jahidi White leading a comeback that narrowed the Mavericks' advantage to 48-47 at halftime. The former Georgetown star scored Washington's final eight points, including a one-handed midair slam of a miss by Tracy Murray moments after he'd dived on the floor to retrieve a loose ball.
Jordan spent most of the game in the second row of the owner's box, chin in hand. Until the game became a blowout, his concentration rarely was interrupted by requests for a picture or autograph.
Almost certainly, Jordan in person did not learn much he did not already know or sense.
Surely upsetting was how the Wizards fell behind so easily. The Mavericks were more assertive nearly everywhere, scoring 14 more points on fast breaks. The booing increased steadily and was loudest when 7-foot-6 Shawn Bradley made an easy layin after a lob from Dirk Nowitzki early in the fourth quarter.
With Bradley (9-of-10 shooting) and swingman Michael Finley (23 points, nine assists) leading the charge, the Mavericks broke away from a tie at 54 and had an 89-67 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Howard and point guard Rod Strickland were unable to compensate for the absence of injured guards Mitch Richmond and Richard Hamilton, who missed the game after attending the funeral of his grandmother.
"I never anticipated the game would end this way," said Coach Gar Heard, whose own performance is being evaluated by Jordan. "We're short-handed, but tried to play hard."
The Mavericks said they expected more of a fight.
"We had the fear that they were going to come out with great momentum," said forward Cedric Ceballos. "But eventually they started making mistakes and we took advantage of that. . . . Juwan was playing very aggressive, a bit too aggressive."
Heard was asked to respond to Jordan's judgment that the team has underachieved and, if so, why.
"If you're going to win at anything you've got to have chemistry," he said. "On paper, we're very talented. But you don't win games on paper. . . . We have to sit down and evaluate this team."