Jordan makes an early return

Expected back Sunday, Wizard gets 16 minutes, 7 points in 107-75 win

March 21, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

DENVER -- Flashbulbs popped, teen-aged girls screamed and there was a measurable buzz around the Pepsi Center last night, which could only mean one thing:

Michael Jordan is back.

Jordan made his return here last night after 12 games on the injured list with torn cartilage in his right knee, just in time to take part in the Washington Wizards' 107-75 pasting of the Denver Nuggets.

Jordan, who had arthroscopic surgery on the knee on Feb. 27, played 16 minutes and chipped in seven points -- the third time this season he has failed to score in double figures -- as he looked to be more in the mode of getting accustomed to playing again than taking over.

"Obviously, I felt good," said Jordan, who shot 2-for-9 from the field. "I was moving kind of good. My rhythm's not quite there, obviously. But I felt good, and the guys weren't looking for me. They were more or less still being aggressive, which is what I wanted to happen anyway. Hopefully, when the time comes and they need my help, I'll be ready."

Jordan, who was out of the starting lineup for the first time since an April 5, 1986, game when he was with the Chicago Bulls -- a streak of 883 straight starts -- missed his last five shots.

His presence, however, was largely ceremonial as the Wizards (32-36) cruised to their second straight victory and third in their past four games, to stay in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, 2 1/2 games behind the Charlotte Hornets for the eighth and final playoff spot.

"This is important, because we've got to make a good run," Jordan said. "These guys have been playing extremely well, and I think I can help them in the last five or six minutes of ballgames where they don't execute or have a focus or where I can create a double team and help out other guys.

"In that sense, if we can come in with the same intensity that the guys have been playing with in the last six games other than the Clipper game [a 21-point loss last week], I can kind of plug myself into what they've been doing and hopefully give them some help down the stretch."

Whatever drama that might have been attached to the game was largely gone by halftime, obliterated in the hail of a 21-2 Washington run that started the third quarter and provided a 75-41 Wizards lead.

By the fourth quarter, the only thing of interest for the crowd was to cheer for the Nuggets' mascot to make a half-court shot, then give the ball -- which he had Jordan autograph during the game -- to a lucky fan.

Jordan's return was a bit of a surprise, especially since he had said after Tuesday's practice here that he almost certainly would not play against Denver or in tonight's game at Utah.

Jordan had not been expected to play until possibly Sunday in Toronto, and certainly not before he took part in a full-contact practice.

However, Jordan said that after taking part in a 90-minute workout here Tuesday and yesterday's morning shoot-around, he considered that he would have little time before Sunday to practice and told coach Doug Collins that he was ready to be activated.

"It was important to get back, but I had to listen to what my body said," Jordan said. "I didn't just want to come back. If I felt I was capable of coming back, I would.

"When I talked to Doug, we didn't have many practice days between now and Sunday. When we fly back, we don't get in until 5:30 in the morning Friday, which means there's no practice. And then we're flying out early Saturday for a game at noon.

"So I told him, I could be an insurance policy to a degree and get some good minutes in a game situation and take it from there and not try to overexert myself in terms of playing a lot of minutes. I could play anywhere from 15-20 minutes, which in essence is like a practice for me. That's kind of how we went at it."

The next big test for Jordan is to see how his knee reacts in tonight's game, a dreaded back-to-back game at a high altitude.

"The doctor tells me that [tonight] will be a telltale in terms of how much I pushed it today," Jordan said. "So, I'll wait and see. From my anticipation, it's going to be OK. I didn't play heavy minutes. I kind of pushed my wind to some degree, but nothing that's going to hamper my recovery time for [tonight].

"The altitude is another thing, but I'm looking to see how I respond with the knee and swelling."

Wizards tonight

Opponent: Utah Jazz

Site: Delta Center, Salt Lake City

Time: 9

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WTNT (570 AM)

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