Jordan joins practice, evaluating readiness

Wizard wary of returning too soon from knee surgery

Pro Basketball

March 20, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

DENVER - Michael Jordan's notice to the basketball world that he is on the way back from a knee injury wasn't as dramatic or as pithy as the two-word "I'm back" statement he faxed upon his return to the NBA in 1995, but it served its purpose.

Jordan, who has missed 12 games with a cartilage tear in his right knee, practiced yesterday and made his first public appearance with the Washington Wizards since he went on the injured list Feb. 26. He pronounced himself on the mend.

"I felt good. If I felt something, I wouldn't have done it," Jordan of his 90-minute workout with the Wizards. "I'm feeling pretty good. I'm just taking it slow, and not trying to rush it."

Indeed, while Jordan will travel with the Wizards, who are 4-8 since he begged out of the fourth quarter of a game in Miami on Feb. 24, he said he has no plans to play either here tonight or in Utah tomorrow.

If Jordan, who will go through pre-game shoot-arounds today and tomorrow and a Saturday practice in Washington, deems himself basketball-ready, he mostly likely could return for Sunday's game in Toronto.

Jordan, who had surgery on Feb. 27 for the first time in his 13-year career, said he has been running and doing the technical work necessary to get back into shape, but needed actual practice before going into a real game.

"For me to go cold turkey and try to jump back into basketball, I don't think is very smart," Jordan said.

"Everything has been very positive. Ever since I've done it [the surgery], I've felt very confident that a lot of the issues that I've been dealing with have subsided to some degree. And along with that, my tendinitis in my left, knock on wood, has kind of subsided to some degree. The rest has been very helpful. It's just a matter of getting myself in shape enough to play."

Jordan said he and coach Doug Collins had not discussed a plan for his return.

"I haven't been through a real contact practice yet," said Jordan, who leads the Wizards in scoring at 24.3 points a game. "I've been doing a lot of individual work, running, cutting. So far, it's feeling great. [Yesterday] I got a chance to go with the team and go through some plays and dummy work, but I hadn't had any contact and I didn't want to jump back in without going through that."

Collins was unavailable for comment yesterday, but said before the Wizards' 99-96 win over Golden State on Monday that he'd have no trouble working Jordan back into the rotation.

"That won't be hard at all," said Collins. "Michael picks things up easily and the things we're doing now, he could fit right into. We're pushing the ball up the floor a little bit more now, but once we get there, we're running a motion attack and trying to get guys moving. He would fit well into that."

Collins said Monday that Jordan's return would bring a sense of relief to the team.

"The guys feel confident, but they would feel much better with him. I think they know what he provides for this team," Collins said. "The one thing he gives us is respect with the officials in the last six minutes of a game. I've really noticed the difference in that, a real difference, since he's been out."

Jordan said he has been playing "couch coach" and has been paying attention to the team's progress.

"I can see a lot of mistakes that I felt, if I was on the court I could kind of make some impact on," Jordan said. "But these are young kids who are going to have to learn how to fight their way through certain situations and understand what the coaches are telling and then try to apply that to the game."

The Wizards (31-36) are in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, but only 2 1/2 games behind eighth-place Charlotte for the final playoff spot in the conference with 15 games remaining.

"It's an itch to try to get back out there and get into this playoff run situation," Jordan said. "But if I'm out there limping around, I don't think it's going to be any good. ... So far, the team is doing well. ... I'd like to see them continue to play well, and when the time comes, hopefully, I can get out there and make a difference."

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