- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 20, 2002

Michael Jordan, silent regarding his future following arthroscopic surgery on his right knee three weeks ago, said he expects to rejoin the Washington Wizards as soon as Sunday as the team struggles to reach the playoffs for the first time in five years.
Jordan, who underwent surgery on Feb.27, will skip today's game with Denver and tomorrow's in Salt Lake City against Utah, and hopes to play the final 13 games of the season, beginning with Toronto this weekend.
"It's going good," Jordan said of the rehabilitation. "I've been running and jumping and cutting. So far it's progressing. I just take it little by little."
Jordan had been expected to join the Wizards (31-36) on their recent West Coast trip, a nine-day, six-game odyssey that so far has seen them split four games. A victory in one of the two remaining games would be considered a huge success, while winning two, particularly without Jordan, would be staggering. Going into last night's games the Wizards were 2 games out of the final playoff spot in the woeful Eastern Conference.
However, Jordan's return for Sunday's game is not a given. In fact, a timetable has yet to be issued.
"[Coach] Doug [Collins] and I haven't even discussed it. I've just been waiting to get in a good practice where I can really test the knee," said Jordan, who practiced yesterday with the team for the first time since surgery. "I've been doing a lot of individual work. A lot of shooting. A lot of cutting and jumping, but haven't really had any contact work. For me to go cold turkey and try to jump into basketball I don't think is very smart."
For certain, the Wizards are much better when Jordan, averaging 24.3 points, is in the lineup.
With Jordan the Wizards are 27-26, and they have shown that they are capable of winning games in bunches, as they did in December and early January when they won 14 of 17 games.
But even though Jordan is expected to be back on the court soon, just how ready he is physically is still anybody's guess.
When Ron Artest inadvertently broke a pair of Jordan's ribs last June as he was preparing to return, Jordan missed four weeks of valuable conditioning that, by his own admission, put him behind schedule.
And at times during the early stages of the season, specifically when the Wizards' 2-8 start prompted Jordan to say of the team, "We stink," Jordan often pointed to the injury as the main reason why he sometimes looked very little like the player who led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles.
After arriving at the All-Star break 26-21 and squarely in the hunt for their first playoff appearance since the 1997, the Wizards have had trouble winning games in the second half, even when they had Jordan.
In the first seven games after the break, with Jordan in the lineup, Washington won just once, and that was because of Jordan's last-second jumper that lifted them to a victory over the Phoenix Suns. Heading into tonight's game the Wizards are 4-8 minus Jordan.
On a positive note, Jordan does not appear to be considering retirement at the conclusion of this season.
"I feel very confident that a lot of the issues I was dealing with have pretty much subsided to some degree. And along with that, the tendinitis in my left knee, knock on wood, has [lessened]. So, the rest has been very helpful. It's just a matter of getting myself in shape enough to get out and play."
His rehab has been ahead of schedule. When Jordan first had the surgery it was believed he would need at least four weeks to heal completely. And even though he is eager to play now, Jordan does not want to jeopardize anything by returning before his body is ready.
"Yeah, I mean it's an itch to get out there and try to get back into this playoff run situation, but I mean, if I'm out there limping around I don't think it's going to be any good," he said. "I feel if I'm 100 percent, then I can make a bigger difference than 85 percent. So far the team's been doing well. We're 2-2 on this road trip. I'd like to see them continue to play well and hopefully, when the time comes I can get out there and make a difference."


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