- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Washington Wizards shooting guard Richard Hamilton, who was playing at an All-Star level before he suffered a partially torn right groin last month, could rejoin the team as soon as Thursday when the Wizards play at Cleveland.
Hamilton, who has missed the team's last 16 games since suffering the injury in the first quarter of a game at Orlando, has upped the intensity of his workouts significantly in recent days, giving the team hope that he might be in the lineup before the end of the week.
Hamilton so impressed Wizards (21-20) coach Doug Collins in practice yesterday that Collins suggested activating Hamilton from the injured list this week is a possibility.
"He looked good today. He ran well. He didn't appear to be overly concerned about favoring it. His timing was good, he shot the ball well," Collins said.
Asked if Hamilton might be available for tonight's game with Detroit (21-20), Collins said, "I don't think so. I think the earliest would be Thursday. I would love to be able to have him in a few minutes against Cleveland and if possible get him back for that four-game homestand."
Hamilton, averaging 19.8 points before he went down, did not rule out a Thursday return.
"We don't know yet, we don't know yet," Hamilton said. "We'll see how I feel tomorrow and take it from there."
If it plays out that Hamilton returns Thursday, he would get four home games against Atlanta, Indiana, Toronto and Sacramento heading into the All-Star break. Following the break the Wizards resume their schedule with three road games against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Kings and Phoenix.
"This will be a critical set of games coming up for us," Collins said. "What we want to do is stay in that playoff hunt."
Hamilton's return likely will have a domino effect on team with all the fallout being positive. He led the team in scoring eight times before he went down. More importantly, Hamilton was taking his offensive game to the next level at the time of his setback. He has fine-tuned his mid-range game to the point where it is easily one of the best in the league.
Tell-tale signs of this improvement were evident in the games leading up to his injury Hamilton led the Wizards in scoring in six of the team's nine games before he was injured on Dec. 21.
On top of adding almost 20 points to the offense, Hamilton's return will strengthen the bench in that it allows Hubert Davis to return to his role as a reserve where Collins can utilize his adept 3-point shooting in spurts.
And it also removes a huge burden from Michael Jordan. Jordan has found his stride with Hamilton mending, but it has come at a cost.
Jordan comes into tonight's game having scored 40 or more points in the team's last two games. And of his five games of 40 points or more this season including his season-high 51 all but one came after Hamilton's injury.
In piling up his points, Jordan's minutes per game have almost routinely soared at, near or above 40. Hamilton's return will no doubt reduce Jordan's workload and, hopefully, get his minutes down in the 34-minute range.
"If [Hamiltons] rhythm is good then that can take some of the weight off of me," Jordan said yesterday. "I think you can eliminate defenses just totally focusing on me. He can only aid what I've been doing over the last three or four weeks, so I'm looking forward to having him back."
Jordan suggested that Hamilton's return and that of swingman Courtney Alexander, who returned last week from injury, won't scramble the team's chemistry.
"I don't think it's going to destroy my rhythm. I think I'm just going to try to read my opportunities and find those situations where I can involve those guys," he said.
Hamilton clearly understands all of this.
"I think it takes a lot of pressure off of him because he won't have to tire himself out," Hamilton said. "Right now he has to get 40. I think once I come back, it's an understanding factor, knowing in his mind that he doesn't have to go out there and get 40."

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