BOWIE -- It may come when the Washington Bullets hit a cold spell. Or it might occur at a time the Miami Heat is making a run. But at some point in the first quarter of tonight's game against the Heat, Bullets coach Jim Lynam will walk down the bench and call Chris Webber's name.
"At first, I'll let him watch the flow of the game and let him slide into it," Lynam said. "We'll catch the emotional thing when he comes in. The crowd will go nuts."
And Webber will be happy to be back on the court six weeks after separating his shoulder Dec. 22. On Monday, Webber practiced with the team for the first time since the injury, and spent Tuesday and Wednesday continuing his rehabilitation. He went through his final practice yesterday at Bowie State, and pronounced himself fit.
"I can play 55 minutes, one, two or 10 overtimes," Webber said yesterday. "I'll have a lot of emotions inside of me. Disappointment, frustration, happiness that I'm back, satisfaction that I worked through my injury. I set a goal, and I did it."
Webber's return could not have come at a better time for the Bullets, who are 5-14 since he got hurt, including Wednesday's disappointing loss at Philadelphia. The Sixers had lost five straight and 15 of their previous 17.
Yesterday, Lynam had a brief discussion with his team about goals for the second half of the season.
"We've got to try to get to the foul line more. We have to try to get offensive rebounds more," the coach said. "Our defense has been respectable. Offensively, we're not getting enough easy baskets."
Webber will be a definite help on the offensive boards, creating nTC opportunities for himself and his teammates.
"He'll be the first guy off the bench," Lynam said. "I can bring him in for anybody with the exception of [point guard Scott] Skiles."
And though Webber and Juwan Howard are ideally power forwards, Lynam said he'll play both at the same time.
"Juwan and Chris both have enough versatility [to play center or froward]," Lynam said. "There aren't many forwards that one of those two guys can't guard."
Webber said he's not at full strength, and doesn't expect to be for some time. "I wouldn't come back unless I could contribute at least 95 percent, and I can do that," he said. "I don't think I'll be 100 percent for a year. I've done a lot of research on [the shoulder], and it's as strong as it's going to be."
Webber said that sitting, and failing to make the All-Star team, has been painful, but it also has given him a chance to discover the Washington area, a place he plans on staying for a while.
"I've talked enough about that, and my feelings haven't changed," said Webber, whose contract is for one year. "Juwan has made it that much better. This is definitely the team Juwan and I will make a future with, and we'll turn it around."
"We're going to the playoffs, that's all I know," Webber said. "If we don't, we don't. And I'm not guaranteeing anything. But that's the way I look at it. I don't think about not making the playoffs, I think about winning."
Opponent: Miami Heat
Site: USAir Arena, Landover
TV/Radio: HTS/WTEM (570 AM)
Outlook: The last time these teams met was Nov. 12, when G Rex Chapman hit a team-record eight three-pointers in Washington's 109-99 win. Miami (15-28) has been a beat-up team of late. F Kevin Willis (19.2 ppg, 11.4 rpg) has missed four straight with tendinitis in his left knee. C John Salley has missed the past two with a bruised foot. Still, the Heat came through with its best defensive performance of the season in Wednesday's 98-75 win over Detroit. F Chris Webber returns tonight for the Bullets, who have lost two straight.