Michael Jordan has put the Washington Wizards on his back many times this season. Last night against the Toronto Raptors, that back flared up and when the Wizards needed him at the end, he already had left the building.
Jordan left the court about five minutes before halftime, grimacing in pain because of back spasms. He did not return, missing a half for the first time this season as the Wizards fell to Toronto, 89-86, at MCI Center.
Midway through the fourth quarter, he was on his way home. Jordan will be re-evaluated this morning before his status is determined for tonight's home game against the Los Angeles Clippers. Coach Doug Collins described Jordan's injury as a "game-time decision."
"I'm sure he'll be in [getting treatment] all day trying to get ready to play," said Collins, who saw Jordan at halftime on a medical table in pain. "You know he doesn't want to miss [tonight's game]."
The injury occurred after Jordan backed down Vince Carter, twisting his body to shake free before throwing a pass that was intercepted. At the next stop in play, Jordan walked off the court, indicating to teammates on the bench that he needed his back examined immediately.
Jerry Stackhouse replaced Jordan with the Wizards leading 40-33. The Raptors cut the deficit to 48-44 at halftime. Jordan had four points, three rebounds, two assists and three turnovers in 15 minutes.
Larry Hughes -- who returned from a sprained ankle -- echoed the sentiments of teammates who seem to expect Jordan back tonight. "He has a high pain tolerance," Hughes said. "So if there's any chance he can get out there, he'll be out there."
Because of various ailments, Jordan hasn't been practicing. Instead, Jordan has received treatment entailing ice, heat and electric stimulus.
Before last night's game, Collins said, Jordan appeared stiff. "I didn't think he had any bounce," he said.
Jordan's worst ailment this season had been a deep thigh bruise suffered when he collided with Reggie Miller during Washington's 83-78 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Feb. 25. Jordan was questionable for the next game, against the Houston Rockets, but had one of his most electric performances of the season: 35 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists.
In five games since turning 40, Jordan has averaged 30.6 points and 8.4 rebounds. But he was also averaging 45 minutes during the stretch.
"I'm going out," Jordan said last week, "with no bullets."
Collins believes that Jordan's previous injuries led to the back spasms. "I think a lot of that is the fact that subconsciously when one's leg is a little bit sore," Collins said, "you do things off the other leg."
Unlike the summer of 2001, when Jordan underwent a grueling regimen to come out of retirement, the former Chicago Bull rested in the summer to have energy for the 82-game grind. And Jordan began this season as a reserve before entering the starting lineup when Washington stumbled.
Now the team, clinging to playoff hopes, faces a difficult stretch. Last night's game, rescheduled because of the snowstorm that covered the area on Jordan's birthday, Feb. 17, leaves the Wizards little time to rest.
"As it is now, we've got six games in nine days," Collins said. "When this game was jammed in there, I knew it was going to be a tough stretch."