Jordan mortal in return to NBA, scoring 19 as his Wizards fall to Knicks 93-91

Wednesday, October 31st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Michael Jordan was hardly the Air Jordan of old in his first game back in more than three years.

The basketball great scored only 19 points and missed his final shot _ a 3-pointer in the waning seconds that would have tied the game _ as his Washington Wizards lost 83-81 to the New York Knicks on Tuesday.

Jordan shot 7-for-21 from the field with six assists, five rebounds and four steals. He did most of his damage in the first half; in the final 24 minutes, he was mortal Michael rather than the Jordan who won six championships in the 1990s.

``The game is a little bit different, my teammates are a little bit different, and obviously the outcome is a little different from what I wanted,'' Jordan said. ``But I feel good about myself and about what the team did, and we have to continue to work in the right direction.''

Before a sellout crowd that was unexpectedly subdued, Jordan never developed a rhythm with his jump shot and made some bad decisions down the stretch. He had two turnovers in the final three minutes and missed four of his final five shots.

Wearing his familiar No. 23 _ on an unfamiliar Wizards uniform _ Jordan was cheered by the New York crowd during player introductions. But he was jeered when he tossed up an airball less than three minutes into the game and scrutinized on every move the rest of the night.

``It's his first game of the season. I'm sure as we get along and he gets in better condition and gets a better feel for the game, those shots will go down,'' said Latrell Sprewell, who led the Knicks with 28 points.

The Wizards trailed for most of the second half. And the shot that could have tied the score late in the fourth quarter _ like so many of Jordan's jumpers _ didn't have enough on it.

``I had a good look and it came up short. My shot was pretty short and pretty flat,'' Jordan said. ``It could have been a great situation, but it's the beginning of a long season _ that's the way I look at it.''

``I think we were all surprised, I know I was, when that 3 went up. I thought it was in,'' Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy said.

Chris Whitney scored 18 points to lead the rest of the Wizards, who could have made Jordan's return a much bigger success if they had converted a few of his precise passes into baskets.

The Bulls had a fierce rivalry with the Knicks in the 1990s, meeting in the playoffs five times. Chicago won four of those series, with New York's only victory coming in 1994 when Jordan was playing minor league baseball.

On Tuesday, the Knicks double-teamed Jordan every time he got the ball near the basket, so the Wizards moved him to the point guard position, letting him bring the ball upcourt and get the offense running.

Jordan's first touch 10 seconds into the game resulted in a pass to Christian Laettner for a shot that clanged off the rim. His first points came when he used a surprisingly quick first step to drive around Sprewell 90 seconds into the game for a finger-roll that rattled in.

Those points were Jordan's first since he hit a jumper over Utah's Bryon Russell in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals to give the Chicago Bulls their sixth championship. He retired after the season and made his comeback this year.