- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Michael Jordan will have exploratory surgery on his right knee, perhaps as soon as today, and depending on what is discovered Jordan's season could be over.

"We really don't know how long he'll be out until we know what [the doctor] sees once he gets in there," Wizards coach Doug Collins said yesterday of the procedure that will be done by team doctor Stephen Hass. "He's got to find out what's causing the irritation and why his knee is continuing to swell. And depending on how much work he has to do, that will be the deciding factor on how long Michael will be out."

The Wizards have placed Jordan on the injured list, where he has been just once before in his career. Jordan will be forced to miss at least the next five games, meaning he would be eligible to be activated when the team plays at Orlando on March8.

However, the intrusive nature of the surgery, coupled with the fact Jordan is 39 years old, all but guarantees he will miss at least three weeks and lends credence to the possibility that his season could be over after 55 games. But Collins said the surgery does not necessarily mean Jordan's season is over.

Jordan has said he wants to play next year. However, that was before the knee problems started becoming acute. Yesterday Collins said Jordan was taking all of this into consideration as he prepared for the surgery. Jordan was unavailable and was in consultation most of the morning with Hass.

"Not only for the end of the season but I think it would give him hope for next year," Collins said. "I think he knows that if he didn't have this done he wouldn't be able to continue to play because more and more the swelling is coming back. There is something in there that is irritating it that makes the swelling continue to come back."

Jordan has been plagued by tendinitis in recent weeks but a Miami Heat team doctor indicated Sunday that his problem could be an arthritic condition.

Jordan has had the knee drained three times this season, most recently on Sunday before the team's 92-80 loss to the Heat. Jordan could be seen limping through much of that game, which was the second of back-to-back games. He scored 37 against the Heat the previous night.

However, with 6:27 left in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game and the Wizards still in position to win, the pain became too much for Jordan, who removed himself from the game.

Following the game Jordan said, "I'm getting old. It's a sign obviously that things are coming to a closure."

The situation became more ominous on the team's flight home from Miami. Jordan's knee again began to swell before the plane touched down early Monday morning. The Wizards did not practice Monday, but Collins and Jordan talked later in the day. At that time Jordan informed Collins he would pursue a surgical option.

The ailing knee already has caused Jordan to miss two games this year, road losses at San Antonio (Dec.4) and Detroit (Feb.20). In stretches between those two dates, Jordan's knee had not been much of a problem. During that span he posted all but one of his five 40-point plus efforts, including his season-high 51.

But as the team approached the All-Star break, Jordan banged knees with strapping backup center Etan Thomas in a 108-101 victory against Sacramento on Feb.8.

Since that time, Collins says, Jordan has not been the same player.

"So much of what we do depends on him and his energy and he hasn't been himself," Collins said. "He's been hurting. He hasn't been the same since the break."

The team hasn't been the same, either. Since the break the Wizards (27-28) have dropped seven of eight games, and they are presently on a five-game losing streak that has seen them fall from among the eight teams that will make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.

With Jordan and his 24.3 points out of the lineup for an undetermined amount of time, the team's chances of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 1997 have become more remote. Of their remaining 27 games, 14 are on the road. This includes a West Coast trip next month that will feature seven games in nine days. They also have 14 back-to-back games remaining.

Bleak though the scenario may be, the Wizards put on an optimistic face yesterday.

"Everybody has to step up, everybody has to come with their 'A' game for us to win," said second-leading scorer (19.3) Richard Hamilton. "But anything is possible. I think Michael has led us in the right direction and we've got to continue to play with that spirit and that winning attitude. That's what it's going to take."

Jordan isn't the only health concern for the Wizards. Backup center Brendan Haywood, who yesterday had fluid drained from his left knee, is unlikely to play tonight against Portland. Also, starting center Jahidi White has a strained left shoulder and is listed as questionable.

So with Jordan's return in question and the team in a tailspin, the Wizards' once promising season now teeters on the brink of collapse.

"I've got to be the leader of the ship more than ever," Collins said. "I've got to be positive. At the same time I can't let corners be cut and I can't make alibis. The easiest thing to do is to make an excuse."

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