- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 6, 2001

HOUSTON Michael Jordan's ailing right knee didn't prevent him from shooting jumpers at the Houston Rockets' practice facility yesterday, but the inflamed joint might force Jordan out of his second game in a row when the Washington Wizards face the Rockets tonight.

"Michael shot around lightly today, so I'm sure he'll find out how his knee is feeling tomorrow, so there probably won't be a decision until tomorrow," coach Doug Collins said.

Jordan has been bothered by tendinitis in his left knee for years, but the problems he is experiencing with his right knee now are mostly a result of a hyperextension he suffered in the final preseason game against Boston. As a result, Collins revealed yesterday that Jordan has sat out a large number of practices already and that, with his current condition, it is unlikely he will resume practicing anytime soon.

"I think at some point, it would be nice, even if it's just 20 minutes of practice, just to stay sharp," Collins said. "I can't tell you the last time he practiced with us, because physically he just can't do it."

Jordan had his knee drained Monday. Dr. John Hefferon also conducted an MRI in Chicago that revealed no acute damage. So in essence, Jordan's knee very likely is going to be a problem the team must deal with the entire season.

"I think it is a chronic situation," Collins said. "I think he's had this for a while. The big thing is, are we going to be able to calm it down? It got so inflamed that I think when he went to see Dr. Hefferon in Chicago, he talked about Michael needing to let this thing cool down because if you come back too soon with it, it's going to get right back to where it was before. So I think Dr. Hefferon would have liked for him to have taken a little more time off, but I think Michael just wants to see day to day how it feels."

The fact that Jordan has all but

stopped practicing with the team even before the knee became a problem will slow even more the process of getting Jordan in optimum condition for the rest of the season.

Jordan did not address the media yesterday. During the late stages of the practice, when members of the media were permitted into the practice facility, Jordan pumped in jumpers, barely leaving his feet, while wearing an ice pack on his leg.

One of Collins' biggest concerns is preparing the team without knowing for certain the status of his best player.

Even at 38, Jordan is far and away the top player on the team. With Jordan, the Wizards are able to get into their offensive sets much faster than when he's a spectator, as he was Tuesday night in the team's 103-88 loss at San Antonio. Without Jordan, the Wizards young and undisciplined are often forced to run plays to completion, which is much harder. This often results in turnovers and miscues that Jordan's presence almost always eliminates.

"It's kind of difficult in a way," Richard Hamilton said of playing without Jordan. "He's such a focal point in our offense. But also we're a young team. This is what we had last year, and we know how to accomplish our goals with what we have out there. It's definitely going to be tough not having him out there, but it's also a big learning experience for us."

Hamilton pointed out that when San Antonio used a 16-0 run early in the third quarter to put the Wizards away, Jordan, had he played, might have been able to make somewhat of a difference.

"It was hard. We were in the game until they made their run in the third quarter," Hamilton said. "He would have been there to counsel us in those situations. I think he might have told us to slow down, take your time and don't try to get it all back in one possession. But the worst thing we can do is put all our eggs in one basket."

Even if Jordan does not play tonight, the Rockets are a team that is ripe to be beaten. Former Maryland standout Steve Francis is out with a ruptured plantar fascia in his left foot. Their second-best player, guard Cuttino Mobley, is hobbling on a sprained left ankle. And making matters worse, the Rockets have lost seven games in a row and are reeling from the indignity of being pummeled 103-75 by the horrid Chicago Bulls.

"We've taken a step backwards," Francis said. "I think a lot of guys came into camp ready physically. But mentally we didn't, and we're paying for it right now."

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