Jordan out for rest of season

With knee ailing, Wizards star decides to miss last 8 games

April 04, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

MILWAUKEE - Washington Wizards coach Doug Collins has said that the team has gone through five distinct stages this season, from training camp to adapting to a new coach and learning to play with Michael Jordan, to playing without an injured Richard Hamilton, to playing without an injured Jordan and to adjusting to Jordan's return from knee surgery.

As the Wizards head down the stretch drive in a desperate push to make the playoffs, the sixth stage has become a repeat of the fourth, as Jordan announced yesterday that he will miss the final eight games of the regular season, including last night's matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks, because of inflammation in his right knee.

After playing 12 minutes and scoring two points - both career lows - in Tuesday's 113-93 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in Washington, Jordan awoke yesterday morning to find swelling in the knee that was operated on Feb. 27 to repair torn lateral meniscus cartilage.

That's when Jordan, who missed 12 games before returning March 20 in Denver, decided to take the rest of the season off.

"I think it is best at this point to rest the knee and let it heal properly," said Jordan in a statement issued by the Wizards. "I tried to get back and play as soon as possible and, early on, the knee responded well. But after the swelling [yesterday], I think it's best to give it rest."

Jordan was placed on the injured list for the second time this season and in his career, and was replaced on the active roster by rookie Bobby Simmons.

Jordan, who led the team with 23.3 points a game, returned to Washington after flying here with the Wizards after Tuesday's game.

Jordan, 39, in his first season back from a three-year retirement, returned from February's arthroscopic surgery in three weeks - about half the time that had been expected - in an attempt to push the Wizards, who began last night's game 2 1/2 games out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, toward the postseason.

But his minutes were limited to about 20 a game in the seven games since he came back from the surgery, all in a reserve role. And though he had some shining moments - including scoring 34 points in Friday's win over the Bucks - it appeared that Jordan might have returned too soon.

"He's seen that his knee has not responded. The surgery was successful, but I think Michael sees that he pushed the envelope too quickly," said Collins, who spoke with Jordan briefly before he flew back to Washington.

Collins - who speculated last week that Jordan, who signed a two-year deal to play before this season, would not return next year - said Jordan would likely take some time off before working out again to assess his ability to play next season.

"What he said to me was he's going to shut it down, let the thing heal, get the inflammation out of there, whether that's six weeks or eight weeks or whatever that might be," said Collins, who coached Jordan in Chicago. "And he's doing it with the idea that he wants to play next year. And he knows that the only way he can do that is to let this heal."

After Tuesday's game, Jordan, who missed 12 games after the surgery, and 14 overall, said he was not fazed by Collins' decision to rest him in the second half, saying he "had no pain. I felt good. I just wanted to make sure that I don't overdo it."

But he also hinted that his recovery from the surgery was not going as smoothly as he would have liked.

"It hasn't put any damper on my decision to come back," Jordan said Tuesday of his injury. "I still feel like I can help this team and teach them. What I want to do is teach and educate. I'd rather do it from a basketball standpoint, but with this injury, it's tough."

The news seemed to catch Jordan's teammates by surprise yesterday, as he had flown here with them with the intention of playing.

"He didn't accomplish his goal of making it to the playoffs," said reserve guard Tyronn Lue. "I think he will try to come back next year. He won't go out like this."

Said Courtney Alexander: "Michael Jordan is the ultimate competitor. If they [the fans] knew how much pain he was in, they'd be surprised he was out there in the first place. He didn't want to hang it up, but obviously the pain was too much to bear for him."

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