- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 31, 2002

The Washington Wizards will welcome Richard Hamilton back today following a 17-game stay on the injured list, but they'll be looking for someone other than Hamilton to start tonight at shooting guard against Cleveland at Gund Arena.
Not long before the team met for practice yesterday morning, Wizards coach Doug Collins got a phone call from Hubert Davis' wife, Leslie, informing him that Hubert, who has started since Hamilton injured his groin last month, had the flu and would not be able to practice. In fact, Davis is so ill that the best the Wizards can hope for is that he'll be ready to play tomorrow, when Atlanta visits.
This comes as no surprise to Collins. He has known for weeks that the excessive minutes Davis had logged would take a toll.
"I think it's a combination of the flu and I think that he's exhausted. I think he's just worn down by all of these minutes," Collins said. "That guy has given me every ounce he's got. Last night he chased Jerry Stackhouse for 35 minutes, and he does that every single night. I knew eventually it was going to catch up [to him]. I told him to stay home and be ready to go Friday night."
Hamilton, the Wizards' second-leading scorer at 19.8, is not ready to start. According to Collins, Hamilton will play no more than "seven or eight minutes a half."
"Once I get out there, I know I'm going to want to play," Hamilton said. "If it feels pretty good after tomorrow and if it feels good Friday against Atlanta, then hopefully I can go ahead and play the way that I've been playing."
The Wizards will start Courtney Alexander or Tyrone Nesby tonight in a three-guard attack along with Chris Whitney and Michael Jordan.
Nesby, a loose cannon last season, has been a solid contributor thus far. At 6-6 and 230 pounds, Nesby is a versatile, athletic player who plays power forward when the Wizards go to a small lineup. He also has been surprisingly dangerous from behind the 3-point line, having made 33 percent of his attempts (nine of 27).
However, Collins is more likely to start Alexander because this allows Jordan to get more of his minutes at small forward, where he has played most of the season.
This will present Alexander with an opportunity, at least until Hamilton is re-inserted into the starting lineup, to shake the doldrums of what has been an unimpressive second season in the league. He has spent most of the season riding the bench or on the injured list.
Alexander's performance hardly resembles last season's. After coming over from Dallas in the Juwan Howard trade last February, he averaged 17 points, three rebounds and 1.5 assists in 27 games with Washington.
This season Alexander has appeared in 19 games, averages 5.0 points and is shooting an anemic 36 percent from the floor.
Collins believes that Hamilton's beating out Alexander for the starting shooting guard position has, to a degree, shaken Alexander's confidence.
"When he didn't start, I think it adversely affected him," Collins said. "I think it really knocked him for a loop. I also think he's understanding now that he's a young player and there's so much ahead of him. He does have talent, and he can bring so much to our team. But you have to get out there and compete every single day."
In recent days, Collins and Alexander have had a few one-on-one head sessions that Collins feels have been immensely beneficial to Alexander. Against Phoenix over the weekend, in his first action since being activated from the injured list, Alexander contributed seven points and five rebounds in 18 minutes. And in the Wizards' 89-86 loss to Detroit on Tuesday, Alexander scored eight points and grabbed four rebounds in 22 minutes
"He's doing better. He's working harder," Collins said. "His spirits are better, and I think that's leading to him playing better. He's giving more of himself. He's thrown himself into the team and that not only lifts him, it lifts the team. And that's really the first time this year that he's done that."
Alexander sounds eager for a return to the form of his rookie season.
"I'm ready to play," he said. "I guess other people kind of want the All-Star break to come because of legs hurting and in terms of it being midseason. "But I've been hurting for a month and a half. And even before I got hurt, I didn't play as much as I'd liked to have played. Being out gave me an opportunity to see things a little differently and to try and get this thing turned around for myself, and that's what I'm trying to do. I've been out for a while, and I've contributed little."
To make room on the active roster for Hamilton, the Wizards placed rookie forward Bobby Simmons on the injured list with tendinitis of the left knee.

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