NBA

MONROE: Jordan's playoff hopes shrink in thin air

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Mike Monroe

 
   
 

DENVER

The Denver gave a $45,000 special edition Harley-Davidson motorcycle Sunday night before His Airness played for the final time in the rarefied, mile-high air. Then they took away something he deems a lot more precious: The last best hope he had of ending his NBA career in the playoffs. Check out Tuesday's NBA standings and they'll tell you that even after getting thumped by the the are just percentage points behind the in the race for the eighth, and final, playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. But check out the remaining schedules for both teams and you'll see the ' chances of backing into the playoffs are remote at best. The have nine games left, five of them on the road. One of their four home games is against the , who merely have the third-best record in the league. They must close out the season in Philadelphia against the team that has the East's best record since the All-Star break.
Playoff Chase
A quick look at the teams in the playoff hunt and their remaining opponents (through games of Mar. 31):

East

Milwaukee (8th): Houston, Cleveland, @ Chicago, , @ Toronto, Indiana, Orlando
Washington (1 GB): Sacramento, @ Atlanta, @ Boston, @ Cleveland; Boston, @ Miami, Atlanta, New York, @ Philadelphia
New York (3.5 GB): @ Denver, @ Utah, @ , Atlanta, Philadelphia, @ Cleveland, @ Washington, @ Indiana

West

Phoenix (8th): Denver, Minnesota, @ , @ Denver, Dallas, Golden State, San Antonio, @ Portland, @ Seattle
Houston (.5 GB): @ Milwaukee, @ Philadelphia, Orlando,Portland, @ Utah, Seattle, Memphis, @ Denver
Golden State (2.5 GB): @ Portland, Portland, Denver, Utah, @ Phoenix, @ Dallas, ,
Seattle (2.5 GB): @ Chicago, @ Minnesota, , Utah, @ Sacramento, Minnesota, @ San Antonio, @ Houston, @ Dallas, Phoenix
The have seven games remaining. Five of them are at home. They close out the season with a home game against the , which is only five games over .500, not 14, like Philadelphia. Speaking of Philadelphia, I think anyone wanting to claim they witnessed Jordan's final NBA game had better try to score tickets now for that season-ender on April 16 at First Union Center. There's not going to be a chance to catch him in the playoffs. Believe it or not, Jordan tried to get us to believe the loss to Denver wasn't a crushing blow to Washington's playoff push. "Is Denver that bad?" he asked. "They beat Milwaukee. They beat Boston. Obviously, we're not the only ones to fall into this trap." Um, yes, Michael. The may have beaten the and in the last 10 days, but they are nonetheless horrid. They've won only 17 games all season. They've got the second-worst record in the entire league. They've got three players on their roster who came out of the development league and at least two more who probably ought to spend a season or two in it. Time for a reality check, MJ. It's the very fact Denver had beaten Milwaukee just a few days before meeting the that made Sunday's game at Pepsi Center such a nice opportunity for Washington's playoff push. Given this gift just four days before meeting the , the refused to open the package. At least Jordan did seem to understand the opportunity his club had blown against the . "Can we make this up?' he asked. "Sure. We can beat Sacramento and it will even things out, I'm pretty sure. That's easier said than done, but we'll get home and get a practice and get ourselves back into a good rhythm of playing." I think that qualifies as Jordan whistling past the graveyard. "Obviously we would have loved to have won this game tonight to go 3-3 on the trip," coach Doug Collins said, "but we didn't. We've got nine games left and we're going to have to win at least seven of them. There's no room for error for us now." Indeed, there is not a millimeter of error margin for Washington in April. Jordan said the were out of sync against Denver because they'd been on the road for 10 days, during which they played six games. They were fatigued, he said, and playing at altitude didn't help. "This was a tough game," Jordan said. "Last game of the road trip. Legs weary. Altitude. (Other) team probably motivated as much as possible to play hard and we never matched their energy. "We just kind of wilted away." That's in stark contrast to what Jordan said when the opened their road trip with an embarrassing loss to the , who at least have a winning record. After that one Jordan was defiant, challenging his teammates. This time he let everyone, including himself, off the hook. Given Milwaukee's penchant for self destruction I would be a fool to say Jordan and his mates have no shot whatever at making the postseason field in the East. The , according to George Karl, just haven't meshed since the draft day trade that made a backcourt mate of 's. And the club had to fine because he refused to re-enter the game against the in the second half last Wednesday, upset that he has been asked to play so much at power forward since came over in that same deal for Payton. Milwaukee hardly is a lock to take care of its own business between now and season's end. But April 1 is upon us, the day for fools. Better book that trip to Philly if you want to see Jordan on an NBA court for the last time. can be reached at his e-mail address, mmonroe@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Celtics, Nuggets, Bucks, Wizards, Sam Cassell, Gary Payton, Desmond Mason, Washington, Denver

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