MJ’s final Garden party

Air Jordan graces the Rose Garden court one last time

Michael Jordan’s farewell tour made its first of two Northwest stops Tuesday night when the Washington Wizards paid a visit to the Portland Trailblazers at the Rose Garden.

Showing flashes from his heyday 11 years ago — when he faced off against Clyde, Cliff and company in the 1992 NBA Finals — His Airness put on a show that Blazer fans are not soon to forget.

The man known as “MJ” scored a game-high 25 points to go with a game-high seven assists. He also grabbed five rebounds and two steals to go with just one turnover, and led the Wizards to a 95-91 win.

Even more amazing, his game-high 41 minutes played almost matched his age (40). And, few who were in attendance would argue that MJ looked like the best player on the floor.

“It’s always a playoff-type atmosphere for Michael here in Portland,” coach Doug Collins said after the game. “He’s had a lot of good games here during his career, and he always seems to get up for the Blazers.”

Jordan didn’t waste any time either. By the end of the first quarter, he had already dropped 10 points, staking the Wizards to a 23-15 lead. By halftime, he had notched 14 points and helped the Wizards maintain an eight point lead at 47-39.

And by game’s end, he had proven to the youthful Blazers that he wasn’t content to call it a career without one final playoff run.

The Wizards had lost three straight coming into Tuesday night’s matchup, and they needed everything Michael had to stay in the race with Milwaukee for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot.

“I would love for us to make the playoffs,” Jordan said. “If we can play tomorrow (in Seattle) and the rest of them like we played tonight, we’ve got a good shot.”

Tuesday night was also to be the final regular-season meeting between Jordan and Scottie Pippen, who played together on the Chicago Bulls teams that won six NBA championships in the 1990s.

But that plan fell through when Pippen went on the injured list March 19 following arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.

Jordan has said that he plans to retire after the season, which means the only way he and Pippen would face each other again is if the Wizards and Trail Blazers meet in the NBA Finals.

However, the odds would indicate that Jordan and Pippen probably met on the court for the final time on Dec. 10 in Washington. Pippen had 14 points and seven rebounds in Portland's 98-79 victory. Jordan scored 14 points.

“I was looking forward to this,” Pippen told the Associated Press before the game. “Unfortunately, injuries happen in this game, and this is a situation that happened and I’m pretty sad not to be on the court tonight.”

As Pippen lamented what might have been, the Blazers were noticeably lost without their point forward and court leader.

Pippen’s teammates never found a true rhythm, and despite cutting the lead to two (79-77) midway through the fourth quarter, the Blazers buried themselves with 15 turnovers and 59 percent free-throw shooting.

Portland has lost all three games without Pippen — including a 94-85 loss to Utah on Wednesday — and has lost five of seven overall as they attempt to secure home-court advantage in the first-round of the playoffs.

The Blazers (44-27) sit one game back of Minnesota (46-27) for the fourth playoff spot in the West. Barring a slide by either team, the Blazers and Timberwolves will meet in the first round, which is set to begin in mid April.

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All playoff scenarios aside, Tuesday night’s game at the Rose Garden was all about Jordan, who is widely regarded as the best player in NBA history.

MJ’s collection of six championship rings includes two three-peats (1991-93; 1996-98) and represents the most among active players (along with Pippen).

His five Most Valuable Player trophies are tied for second all-time with Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is first with six). He has scored the third most points in NBA history (32,061), and holds a career scoring average of 30.2 points per game — first among active players, if not first all time.

Who knows what he could have done if he didn’t retire for those two seasons in the mid-90s?

But, while he could be the leader in nearly every statistical category in NBA history, no one is going to look back on Jordan’s career with any “what-ifs.”

He is a living legend, and will always be remembered for his ability to transcend both the game of basketball and the world around him.

Whether he was relating to his teammates, the media or his worldwide gaggle of followers, MJ always treated everyone with respect.

He redefined “class” for the professional athlete, and made the fans understand that you can be The Man and still have time for the common folk.

Jordan has been an NBA prince since he was drafted in 1984, and when he finally calls it quits, he will be remembered as a king.

Time after time, he awed the planet with his awesome display of athletic ability, workmanship and court savvy. MJ not only defied gravity, he defied convention.

He proved that relentless hard work can get you to the top of the mountain, and he helped lay the foundation for the league’s newest stars such as Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Tracy McGrady.

“Air Jordan” isn’t just a line of shoes anymore. It’s a basketball code. And 100 years from now, MJ’s name will possess the same timelessness as Babe Ruth’s.

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