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NBA youngsters could learn a lot from Jordan

This is the second time around for Doug Collins Ñ coaching Michael Jordan, that is.

Collins was Jordan's second coach in Chicago, running the team from 1986-89, until Phil Jackson took over and rode the Bulls into title country. Now Collins is coaching the Washington Wizards, who invade the Rose Garden tonight for what is more than a 99.9 percent certainty to be Jordan's final appearance here.

When they were first together, there was friction between Collins and Jordan at times, and Collins eventually was jettisoned for a less-intense, less-seasoned Jackson. But their mutual respect proved important in 2001, when Jordan hired Collins to coach the Wizards and took from broadcasting the best TV analyst in the game.

Things have changed Ñ Collins is 51, Jordan 40 Ñ and Collins' admiration for the superstar is evident.

'Obviously, Michael has slowed down some,' Collins says. 'But to do the things he can still do Ñ like score 40 points in a game, or take things over for stretches Ñ is absolutely incredible.

'Our young guys don't realize how hard Michael has had to work to get to where he is. When I had Michael and Oak (Charles Oakley) in Chicago, they devoured practice time. Now I have to monitor their time so they can be fresh, which is probably lost on our (younger players).'

The traveling circus that has surrounded Jordan on the road for years hasn't abated, Collins says.

'We arrive at a hotel at 3 a.m. in 20-degree weather, and people are standing outside to get an autograph or a look,' Collins says. 'When I was 35, I was naive to what the guys had to deal with every single day. I'm sure it was much easier for him at 25, before he had created his championship persona. And to play at the level he is playing at despite all the wear and tear, both mentally and physically É'

Every night, Jordan faces the best the opposition has to throw at him. On this West Coast trip, Jordan goes up against Shawn Marion one game, Antawn Jamison the next, followed by Ruben Patterson and Bonzi Wells, Rashard Lewis and Kobe Bryant Ñ all as pumped up for the challenge as they would be if Jordan were in his heyday.

'I will say this: The guy plays to win. He competes,' Collins says of Jordan. 'There are no odds against him he feels he can't overcome. I am hoping the competitive framework we have tried to lay down will carry on after he is gone.'

Collins, one of the bright minds in the coaching profession, hoped to take the Wizards to another level after a 37-45 record his first season. But a rash of injuries to the front line and the lack of progress by 21-year-old big man Kwame Brown leave the club in danger of missing the playoffs.

Brown popped off to the media last week, saying Collins has lost confidence in him. The coach says that isn't the case, adding that the youngster hasn't worked hard enough or played well enough to deserve more than the 22 minutes a game he is averaging.

'I live with mistakes,' Collins says, 'but you can't play at half-speed. You have to run the floor, go to the boards, play with energy.'

Collins says the Wizards need to get a talent core where we can be good for a long time.'

With Jordan gone, it won't be any easier.

Notes: Portland's Pacific Division title chances all but evaporated with its loss Saturday at home to Sacramento, as did the likelihood of moving past San Antonio into third place in the West standings.

Entering the final three weeks of the regular season, the Blazers are in a dead-heat battle with Minnesota for fourth place and homecourt advantage in the first round. It's unlikely that Utah or the Los Angeles Lakers could move past the Blazers, although the Jazz have home-and-home games left with Portland, beginning Wednesday in Salt Lake City. The Portland-Minnesota game April 6 in the Rose Garden looms large.

'You will find out where Portland is down the stretch,' Sacramento coach Rick Adelman says. 'If they are playing well in the playoffs, they are going to give somebody problems. They are athletic, and they defend. But getting Scottie (Pippen) back healthy is a huge key for them.'

Minnesota's remaining schedule appears easier than Portland's. The Timberwolves have road games at Orlando, Miami, Phoenix, Portland, Seattle and Memphis and home games against Miami, Dallas, Seattle, the L.A. Clippers and Chicago.

Portland has road games at Utah, Golden State, Houston, San Antonio, Memphis and the Clippers and home games against Dallas, Golden State, Utah, Minnesota, the L.A. Lakers and Phoenix.

Homecourt advantage means more for Minnesota than Portland. The Timberwolves are 29-7 at home and 16-19 on the road. The Blazers are 23-11 at home and 21-14 on the road.