Maybe the Wizards have been wasting their time at practice all season. Maybe, instead of polishing their pick-and-roll, they should have been studying primal scream therapy or anger management.
If calling your teammates a bunch of lazy young loafers, as Michael Jordan did, or blasting the coach for not getting you enough shots, like Jerry Stackhouse did, produces results like those last night at MCI Center, then the Wizards need to keep feuding with each other for 18 more games. With enough griping, finger-pointing and air-clearing debates, they might overcome a season of slipshod losses and sneak into the playoffs.
"I had my little tirade on Sunday. Michael had his tirade," Stackhouse said after scoring 31 points, nine in the last 74 seconds, as the Wizards won a vital game against Orlando, 106-105. "We needed to come out and respond.
"This is nothing new for me. I might have sounded off before and come out the next night with all eyes on me."
Stackhouse finally played exactly as the Wizards wish he always would -- attacking the basket, rather than adding to his total of 201 three-point attempts. Stackhouse ended up 15 for 15 on free throws and never jacked up a three all night. He instead looked for teammates as he slashed to the basket and had eight assists, five for easy layups.
Stackhouse, who can play out his contract after this season, made it clear for the first time last night that, despite the way the team has been built around Jordan and not around his own style of play, he is not unhappy being a Wizard.
"I want to put it on the record that I want to stay here in Washington," Stackhouse said, offering the point unsolicited.
Jordan, who scored 23 points but seemed far more conscious of getting the ball to Stackhouse in the closing minutes than usual, also was pleased with the results of the well-publicized criticism he leveled at his teammates Sunday in New York.
"The truth hurts," said Jordan. "Sometimes you should be able to say things. We have the freedom of speech. Let other people evaluate what you have to say even if they decide, 'That was a crock.' "
The Wizards looked practically geriatric in the decisive minutes last night with Jordan, 40, Charles Oakley, 39, Bryon Russell, 34, and Christian Laettner, 33, on the court with eight-year veteran Stackhouse. The kids can't jake it if they're on the pine. Build for the future? Forget it. The Wizards are about Michael's Last Ride.
Everyone involved with the Wizards is having their say these days, that's for sure. You never know who will show up, or where, to let everybody have an earful. Even team owner Abe Pollin, with his team in its multiple snits, spoke to the whole squad at yesterday's morning shoot-around. It's not every day your two biggest stars can, within minutes, rip the majority of the players on the team and question the coach's whole offensive scheme.
"Mr. Pollin spoke to us. He said what he wanted to say," Jordan said with a sly grin.
Whatever it was, his team responded with what Collins called one of its most cohesive games of the season, full of fine passing and alert play in the closing minutes.
The Wizards still have only an outside chance, at best, to get the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Teams with 31-33 marks seldom make torrid come-from-behind stretch runs when 12 of their last 18 games are on the road. This victory may have been more about dignity and pride that the postseason.
Still, it left everyone in a radically different mood.
"I know we're capable of playing like this," Jordan said. "I just wish I knew what our mental preparation for this game was. How do we get ourselves to think this way every single game?"
Well, why not get around in a big circle and scream at each other, saying just what you think. Collins can tell Kwame Brown that he doesn't love the game enough or prepare himself in advance. Kwame can tell Collins and Jordan that maybe a little less impatience and hard looks, and a little more playing time with the game on the line might inspire him.
Jordan can challenge his mates to dive on the floor and almost knock themselves cold by landing on their chins, as he did in Madison Square Garden while scoring 39 points. And, finally, Stackhouse can tell his fellow Tar Heel that maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to share the ball a little more and even clear some space so he can use his isolation moves.
"We don't have any problems, no matter what it may seem like," Stackhouse said of Jordan. "Tonight we were all on the same page. . . . People think because we both played for North Carolina they assume we know a lot about each other. We don't. We're trying to learn enough to build something."
Before the season's lost.
Stackhouse knows that next season his greatest strength -- driving to the basket in the transition game -- won't be taken away from him because Michael and his elderly friends prefer to walk the ball up court, not run.
"Everybody has their niche in this league," Stackhouse said. "I like to push the ball up court, get [defenders] back on their heels. If I can get my left shoulder even with a defender, I don't think anybody in the league can take it to the basket as well as I can."
He's had precious few chances to do it this season. But next year, it will come naturally with Jordan in the executive suite.
The Wizards, if you just listened to their explosive quotes, might sound like a team that is falling apart. Are they? The next 18 games, and all those battles on the road, should answer that.
The Wizards, if you had only watched them lose three close games in the last week to mediocre foes, might look like a team that, once Jordan retires, has no prayer at the playoff next year. But is that right?
The team that showed up last night had cohesion and desire. Larry Hughes had 20 points and nine assists while both Laettner (13 points) and Brendan Haywood (11) scored in double figures. How often -- if ever -- does a team that gets outscored 33-0 on three-pointers manage to pull out a win? And how often can a team shake off a 43-point Tracy McGrady attack? That takes heart.
At least the Wizards have a starting point. Maybe it's time for everybody to stop walking on eggshells, holding their tongues and trying to make Michael's farewell tour a PG-rated fantasy.
Of course, in the future, it might be nice if they could keep their eruptions within the family. Abe really doesn't want to have to show up at practice every day to sort out the combatants.