It's November and no pucks are being dropped at MCI Center because of that disaster of a dispute between NHL players and owners that threatens the season. But there are basketballs, and on Wednesday night the Orlando Magic, with Grant Hill in the lineup, was in town to face Eddie Jordan's Wizards.

"We've done well, considering three of our top eight players are out with injuries," Wizards President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld said. Wizards President Susan O'Malley billed the evening as "Singles Night," with some lucky woman in line to win a date with center Brendan Haywood and a bunch of folks scanning the seats in the upper sections for connections.

Downstairs, onetime Wizards center Gheorghe Muresan, all 7 feet 7 of him, was shaking hands and taking pictures with fans before sitting down and creating behind him an "obstructed view," in the words of CBS sitcom character Tony Kleinman. Old friend and Reston basketball dad Calvin Hill was also in the stands, apprehensive about the comeback of his son, Grant, who missed much of the past four seasons with five ankle surgeries.

For the night, Grant Hill scored 24 points in 38 minutes, but that wasn't enough to keep the Wizards from a 106-96 victory in which the home team outscored the visitors 30-19 in the fourth quarter. Antawn Jamison and Larry Hughes each had 26 points for the Wizards, with Gilbert Arenas contributing six assists.

The Reston basketball dad expressed concern that his son was not yet at full stride. That was until the onetime Rockville basketball dad (me) of three 5-foot-7sters explained to his taller friend that he might be too demanding in view of the final stat sheet -- 72 solid minutes of back-to-back games for Grant and the fact his son was earning more than $10 million a year plus medical benefits.

That conversation over, it was time to hear Wizards Coach Jordan explain that after only five games, "you can't get too high or too low" and offer, "we got to get better" before concluding with a comment I usually make after another of Feinstein's books hits the best-seller list, "Sometimes you can't explain what happens."

This time of the year I'm usually overly optimistic about the Wizards/Bullets, especially during the two Michael Jordan seasons, the brief Webber-Howard era that followed the Bruise Brothers (Ruland and Mahorn) that proceeded the reign of King Bernard, that came around the time of Gus Williams before Moses parted the waters for King Rex decades before the coronation of Queen Chamique.

Still, possibilities for this season's Wizards exist. Jamison, Arenas, Hughes are real pros; Haywood is large; love Juan Dixon and Steve Blake; respect The Post's Mike Wise's glowing assessment of Jarvis Hayes; think Grunfeld did well picking up Michael Ruffin and Anthony Peeler; hope Etan Thomas is worth the money; encourage Kwame Brown to get healthy and happy; wish for Jared Jeffries to get stronger and Laron Profit to have a job.

That said, many of the other teams in the NBA are quite good.

A United Franchise

D.C. United's surge to reach today's championship game of Major League Soccer and win its fourth MLS Cup against the Kansas City Wizards (should we consider naming Washington's baseball team the Wizards, as well?) outside of Los Angeles is a tribute to excellent coaching by Peter Nowak and several key moves by front-office boss Kevin Payne, particularly obtaining MVP-candidate Jaime Moreno last March from the MetroStars.

United stumbled its way through the first half of the season before coming together and providing soccer fans here a great run through the playoffs that included a thrilling six-stage tie-breaking victory over New England last Saturday night before 21,101 fans at RFK Stadium. MLS Commissioner Don Garber said the game made him feel like he was watching a World Cup clincher or crucial English Premier League contest.

"When I took this job [five years ago] I was hoping that some day we could generate the feeling of significance you get in the other big-time sports events here and abroad," he said. "That's what it felt like in Washington last Saturday night; it was a moment, to me, no different than if we were at a big Manchester United game."

MLS, in its ninth season, has in the past year added two franchises, new ownership, two soccer-only stadiums, a significant long-term sponsor in Adidas and just agreed to a labor contract with its players. Garber, with D.C. United officials, worries about not being shunted aside in Washington as the city and Major League Baseball move closer to a marriage. "D.C. United is a great soccer brand," Garber said.

Get Your Tickets

The Washington baseball team's president, Tony Tavares, new to the world of D.C. politics, overcame the Williams-Cropp version of Tammany Hall to announce Ticketmaster as the official ticketmeister of the new team. "Our goal is to get the system up and running as quickly as possible so fans can begin making plans to visit the ballpark next season," Tavares said in a statement on Friday.

Tony, my man, some of us have been making plans for such a visit for 34 years, so that Nov. 18 date to begin accepting deposits on season tickets can't come too soon. Once deposits on season tickets are accepted, Ticketmaster will start selling mini-plans, then single-game tickets preferred by members of the Baseball Gang in search of cheap seats in the upper deck where we'll be inviting baseball mavens Linda Cropp and Sally Jenkins to join us for the home opener, April 15, for dogs and brews.

Memo to General Manager Jim Bowden: Let's not be cheap going after players; step up, you're not in Montreal or working in Cincinnati for Marge and the dog.

Memo to Bud Selig: Come visit; you're our commissioner now. Talk to us; walk with us.

Dreams and Reality

In need of help: Had a dream this week that I was interviewing the late Redskins coach George Allen, just as I did in 1972, and asked him who would start at quarterback, Sonny or Billy? And he wouldn't say. It must be the Vitamin E I've been taking.

No dream: My favorite, and the most successful coach in Washington sports history, Joe Gibbs, should give Patrick Ramsey a chance to quarterback the Redskins if Mark Brunell can't pass for more than a 100 yards against Cincinnati today. If not, what's next, the single-wing?

Have a question or comment? Reach me at Who wants to bus with the Baseball Gang to Philly for Washington's first baseball game in 34 years?

Reston native and Magic veteran Grant Hill had 24 points in 38 minutes in a recent loss to the Wizards.