- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 21, 2002

DENVER Michael Jordan told anybody who would listen Tuesday that he was ruling out playing in last night's game at Denver and tonight's with Utah. He even convinced himself, at least temporarily, that he needed to get in at least two full practices before attempting a possible return Sunday at Toronto.
Instead, Jordan pronounced himself ready following the Washington Wizards' shootaround yesterday morning and returned to the lineup ahead of schedule. Jordan was activated in the afternoon, and the team placed guard Hubert Davis on the injured list with a strained right thumb.
"Michael is extremely pleased with the way his knee has responded in practice, both yesterday and this morning," Wizards general manager Wes Unseld said in a statement. "He worked very hard during his rehabilitation and is ready to return to action."
Jordan was unavailable for comment before last night's game. He did not start, the first time since April 5, 1986, that he played in a game he did not start.
Jordan's return was a surprise to his team, which has 13 games remaining in the regular season and harbors slim hopes of reaching the playoffs. Jordan, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Feb. 27, originally had been expected to return in early April.
According to Wizards sources, Jordan looked lively in the team's pregame shootaround. Forward Popeye Jones said Jordan looked explosive and got up and down the court with relative ease.
"He's definitely the toughest [person] I've ever been around," Jones said. "I'm excited. It's new. We really weren't expecting it. Right now, it's a good time because we're trying to make this push to get back in it and get one of these spots in the playoffs."
Newly acquired Denver point guard Tim Hardaway was not impressed by Jordan's return ahead of schedule.
"Really, I don't care, to tell you the truth," Hardaway said. "To me it's just another game. If he comes back, he comes back. If he don't, he don't. Makes no difference to me."
With Jordan out, the Wizards won four of eight games. However, they struggled with him right before the injury, dropping six of seven games before his surgery.
Now that the league's eighth leading scorer is back, Wizards coach Doug Collins believes that the team will not play much differently than it did early in the season. He said he believed that Jordan made the decision knowing how dire the Wizards' situation remains.
Heading into last night's game they were 2 games out of the eighth playoff spot. The remainder of the schedule is loaded with playoff teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee, Philadelphia (twice), Charlotte and Indiana. Even with Jordan, the Wizards remain a playoff long shot.
"I think Michael recognizes the importance of not only tonight's game but the rest of our games, and he feels that if he can help us in any way he will," Collins said. "I mean, if we don't win tonight's game, we go six below .500 with 13 to play. We've got a tough schedule the rest of the way. I think he feels that if he can just help us for 10 minutes he will."
Collins said he would keep Jordan's minutes down, even if the player had a problem with it.
"Michael is not 100 percent tonight," Collins said. "But I think it sends a message that in this league you have got to play with aches and pains. Very rarely after you've played three or four years in this league do you go out there where you don't hurt. That's a wonderful message to be able to send to young players."


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