As he spoke of the previous meeting against the Chicago Bulls, Washington Bullets forward Juwan Howard called it "a game we should have won." When the name Michael Jordan later came up, Howard didn't even want to be a part of the discussion.
"You're not going to get me to say anything about Michael Jordan," Howard said, laughing. "When I walk over to [the coaches], I'm going to tell them to zip their lips."
Howard has heard the stories about how comments by Seattle SuperSonics coach George Karl and New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy have inspired Jordan to two of his biggest games of the season. And the Bullets, who play host to the Bulls tonight, don't need to awaken the best player in the game on the best team in basketball.
Jordan turned 34 on Monday, and there have been no signs of slippage in his game. He is leading the league in scoring (30.6 ppg) and has helped the Bulls to the best record in the NBA (46-6).
"Everybody says that 34 is old," Jordan said. "The challenge is to still do at 35 what the young guys are doing at 25 and 26. Consistency is the highest thing on my plate at this stage of my career. My aim is to consistently be able to go out and do my job and do it well."
Remember during the 1995 playoffs, when the Orlando Magic eliminated the Bulls and Nick Anderson alluded to Jordan as being old? Anderson knows better these days.
"He's the best player who has ever laced up a pair of tennis shoes," Anderson said. "But although he's 34, he's still playing like he's 19. So I say to people thinking about calling him old, 'Don't get yourself in any trouble.' Leave MJ alone. Don't wake up the giant if he's ever sleeping because if you do, he's liable to wake up growling. Then somebody will have to pay."
Mashburn can turn up Heat
When he came out of Kentucky in 1993, Jamal Mashburn was one of those so-called "can't miss" prospects. Statistically he fared well over his first three seasons (21.8 ppg). He once scored 45 against the Bullets and 50 against Scottie Pippen and the Bulls in a three-week period in 1994. But he did not make the team a winner and earned a reputation as a malcontent.
Pat Riley didn't care about that reputation. He just knew he needed a third scoring option with the Miami Heat, which is why he traded for Mashburn last week -- a deal that was part of the housecleaning in Dallas. The Mavericks later made a nine-player trade with the New Jersey Nets. Mashburn was all smiles when Mavericks coach Jim Cleamons called him into his office last Friday to tell him about the deal.
"I didn't even ask where I was going," Mashburn said. "The first thing I said was 'bye.' I didn't even know where I was going."
Where Mashburn is going is to one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, and a team that has increased its chances tTC with the deal. That is if Mashburn brings the proper attitude, and if his confidence isn't shot from his 3 1/2 years in Dallas.
"Everybody considered the 'three J's' the problem, and that wasn't the case," Mashburn said of the group that included Jim )) Jackson and Jason Kidd -- all traded. "We were just three perimeter guys trying to put it together, and it didn't work."
Players rule in Orlando
It sure is amazing how the Orlando Magic went from the hottest team in the NBA before the All-Star break to a lackluster group. It's hard to believe that a group of professional athletes would intentionally lay down and tank it to get a coach fired, but that appears to be what the Magic did to Brian Hill.
The players had a meeting Thursday night in Minneapolis (the day before losing to Minnesota). The next day they reportedly gathered again in Penny Hardaway's suite (regular rooms aren't good enough for these guys), and the "team leader" called general manager John Gabriel in Orlando to request a change.
"They felt to move forward, this would be their recommendation," Gabriel said.
So instead of firing Hill right then, an organization that has prided itself on being professional let it be announced on national television after Orlando's game in Chicago. Hill was left hanging and coached on Monday, before the announcement came on Tuesday.
"I was not approached by any of the players personally," Hill said. "It does disappoint me to a certain respect because I've always had an open-door policy with the players."
Apparently Hill didn't realize that in this era it's the multimillionaire athletes who have the power. Hardaway has pulled his power play in getting a coach fired, just as Magic
Quote of the week
Boston Celtics coach M. L. Carr, on the Mavericks trading for nine new players. "Century 21 makes out like a bandit. That's nine new homes."
Reach Jerry Bembry on the Internet at Jeryol.com
Pub Date: 2/21/97