Retiring Washington Wizards guard Michael Jordan will play in the team's final four regular season games, even if Washington is eliminated from the playoff chase.
"Absolutely," Wizards Coach Doug Collins said. "Unless he tells me he wants to play less minutes, he'll play the way he has. I want him to go out the way he wants to go out and he doesn't want to go out sitting."
Jordan, 40, is averaging 37 minutes and 20 points, second in both categories to small forward Jerry Stackhouse (40 minutes, 22 points). Last season Jordan missed 22 games because of a right knee problem that resulted in surgery, prompting him to set the goal of playing in all 82 games this season. He is the only Wizards player to play in all 78 games thus far.
The Wizards are 21/2 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff position and a loss by the Wizards or victory by the Bucks will eliminate Washington from the playoff picture. Washington has not played in the postseason since 1997, when Jordan's Chicago Bulls swept it in three games in the first round.
All of Washington's remaining games are sold out. Jordan's final regular season home game will be Monday against the New York Knicks, where the franchise will mark its 82nd consecutive sellout -- all since Jordan came out of retirement before the 2001-02 season to play. The franchise plans a special tribute to Jordan but declined to release details.
The Wizards' regular season finale will be Wednesday at Philadelphia.
If Washington (36-42) does not make the playoffs, that game against the 76ers will mark the final game -- Jordan swears -- of his 15-year NBA career. Jordan won six championships in 13 seasons with the Bulls.
After losing 87-83 to the Boston Celtics at MCI Center on Wednesday night, players seemed to realize the chances Milwaukee losing the rest of its games and the Wizards winning out are about as slim as their playoff hopes. Even so, Collins said he would demand that his team plays to win.
"We're not done yet -- mathematically we're still in it," Collins said. "I mean, if Milwaukee goes and stubs their toe in Toronto [tonight] and we beat Miami [tonight], then they've got two tough home games. They've got to play Orlando and Indiana, two teams that are playing for something.
"Just like I told the guys last night, we're not done. And even if we were, we're going to play to win. We're not playing for draft position. That's not my style as a coach. I've never believed in that, and I'm not going to start now."
Collins said he would give some of the team's younger players more minutes if Washington is eliminated but added, "I've been playing those guys anyway."
Although Collins is taking an optimistic outlook, the mood in the locker room after Washington's loss to Boston was grim. All the potential blown victories at home, the close losses and losses to teams they should have beaten have come back to haunt them, players said.
The Wizards have lost nine games to teams with worse records than theirs. That could change if the Knicks (35-43), just a game behind the Wizards, end the season strong.
"Sometimes you need to get bit in the head to realize you're in a fight," Jordan said after Washington's loss to Boston. "It's unbelievable we had to come down to this moment to where we're fighting and scratching, trying to stay in the playoffs when all season long we had great opportunities to win ballgames.
"It's like when your parents tell you not to do things you go do them and you realize you shouldn't have done it."
Said second-year forward Kwame Brown: "There are some games we should have won. We played well against the good teams, but against some sub-.500 teams we laid an egg. All we can do is try to fight it out and hope Milwaukee loses. . . . We definitely should have won more games. We should have been comfortably in the playoffs, not in the position we're in."
Staff writer Tarik El-Bashir contributed to this report.