By UNited Press International
The World's Most Famous Arena hosts the world's most famous athlete Tuesday night as Michael Jordan makes his return to the NBA at Madison Square Garden.
Jordan and the Washington Wizards visit the New York Knicks as the NBA's 56th season opens with 12 games, including the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Everyone will be playing by some new rules, including the use of zone defenses and a shortened time line.
But all eyes will be on midtown Manhattan and Jordan, whose return to the court after a 40-month absence should even overshadow Game Three of the World Series involving the New York Yankees just several miles north in the Bronx.
Jordan has had many memorable games at the Garden. Most of them bring back bad memories for Knicks fans, who time and again have watched their dreams shattered by No. 23.
Jordan has not played at Madison Square Garden since March 8, 1998. In leading the Chicago Bulls to a 102-89 win, Jordan wore his old red and black Air Jordan sneakers and scored 42 points.
Five games into his last comeback in 1995, Jordan scored 55 points at the Garden. The coach of the Knicks at the time was Pat Riley, who now coaches the Miami Heat and forecasts another explosion for Tuesday night.
"I think he will constantly take his game to another level effort-wise, execution-wise, competitive-wise," Riley said. "In the opening game in New York he may be ready to go for another 55."
That might be asking a bit much. Although Jordan displayed some of his old explosiveness in the exhibition season, he is 38 years old and no longer has the athleticism that allowed him to seemingly fly over foes.
Instead, Jordan is relying on his stroke and his skills. At the same time, new coach Doug Collins and the Wizards will be relying on him to help turn around a team that suffered through a 19-63 campaign last season, the worst in franchise history.
Jordan likely will be matched up with Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston, the type of athletic wing players that figure to give him problems on the defensive end.
"That's an area where I don't think Michael is going to get himself caught up in, matching up against some of the young turks," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who won six NBA titles with Jordan in Chicago.
Last season, the Knicks were upset in the first round of the playoffs. It marked the first time in 10 years New York had failed to reach the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Wizards-Knicks game will air at 8 p.m. EST on TBS, one of six games added to Turner's TV slate since Jordan announced his return last month. Afterward, the Lakers open defense of their consecutive titles at home against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Last season, the Lakers went 23-1 after April 1, winning their last eight regular-season games and posting a record 15-1 mark in the playoffs en route to the franchise's 13th championship.
The Lakers lost Horace Grant to free agency and Ron Harper to retirement. Guard Derek Fisher is sidelined until mid-season. They have been replaced by free agents Samaki Walker, Jelani McCoy and Mitch Richmond. Guard Lindsey Hunter was acquired in a trade.
The Trail Blazers collapsed against the Lakers in Game Seven of the 2000 Western Conference finals and have not recovered since. Amid bickering and injuries last season, they were swept out of the first round by the Lakers.
The Philadelphia 76ers are banged up as they open defense of their Eastern Conference championship in Minnesota, a game that was bumped off national TV by Turner.
The 76ers are powered by Allen Iverson, the NBA's Most Valuable Player and leading scorer last season. Iverson missed all of training camp recovering from elbow surgery but is expected to play.
Philadelphia also will be without guards Eric Snow (broken thumb) and Aaron McKie (shoulder surgery). Thursday, the Sixers acquired power forward Derrick Coleman in a three-team deal and will start him on a front line featuring Defensive Player of the Year Dikembe Mutombo.
The 7-2 Mutombo figures prominently in the new rules, which allow teams to assign defenders to an area of the court rather than an opponent. The only area where defenders cannot stay is the paint.
Most teams will use zones only as a change of pace, which is exactly what the shorter time line is hoped to produce. Teams now have eight seconds instead of 10 to get the ball into the frontcourt, which could led to trapping schemes and up-tempo games.
Scoring dropped last season for the 10th time in the last 11 years.
In Orlando, Florida, the Magic host the Toronto Raptors in an early-season battle between teams hoping to overtake the Sixers in the East. Superstar cousins Vince Carter of Toronto and Tracy McGrady of Orlando face each other, as do long-time rivals and aging centers Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing, both of whom joined new teams this summer.
John Lucas debuts as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who host the Boston Celtics. Rick Carlisle debuts as coach of the Detroit Pistons, who visit the Dallas Mavericks. That will be the first NBA regular-season game in the new American Airlines Center in Dallas.
In other games, the Indiana Pacers visit the New Jersey Nets, who now boast Jason Kidd; the Houston Rockets host the revamped Atlanta Hawks; the improving Los Angeles Clippers visit the San Antonio Spurs; the Phoenix Suns and Stephon Marbury entertain the Denver Nuggets; the Utah Jazz host the Milwaukee Bucks; and the Seattle SuperSonics visit the Sacramento Kings, who will be without All-Star forward Chris Webber.
The Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls and Golden State Warriors open up Wednesday night. The Memphis Grizzlies, who vacated Vancouver in the first franchise move in 16 years, open Thursday at home against Detroit.
The 1,189-game marathon takes a four-day break from February 8-11 for All-Star Weekend in Philadelphia.
The trading deadline is February 21 and the season ends April 17, with the top eight teams from each conference making the playoffs that begin three days later.