- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 21, 2002

DENVER With the Washington Wizards desperately trying to reach the playoffs, Michael Jordan returned to the lineup and led the team to a 107-75 rout of the hapless Denver Nuggets.
With the victory, won by a season-high margin, the Wizards remained 2 games out of the eighth playoff spot and lead the Miami Heat, 82-77 winners over Philadelphia last night, for ninth place.
Richard Hamilton led the Wizards with 30 points while the Wizards held the Nuggets to just 33.3 percent shooting from the floor.
Most importantly for the Wizards, they welcomed back Jordan, who has been the catalyst for the team's first playoff run in five seasons. With last night's easy victory, the Wizards can close out their nine-day, six-game road trip today 42 if they beat Utah.
Jordan missed 16 games following arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. During that time the Wizards went 4-12. However, with the season on the line, they have played well recently, splitting the their first two games.
Last night, though, Jordan was never really needed. Washington opened the second half on a 21-2 run and pushed the lead as high as 36 points in the third quarter, which was nothing more than a glorified practice against a lottery bound, 19-46 team that couldn't have possibly looked any worse than they did against the Wizards
Jordan had given the word that he would play, at the earliest, against Toronto on Sunday. However, after practicing on Tuesday, Jordan felt well enough yesterday to participate in the team's shootaround where he was much more lively than expected.
Jordan scored seven points on 2-for-9 shooting in 16 minutes. This marked the third time in his career all coming this season that Jordan failed to reach double figures after achieving 866 consecutive double-figure games.
The big test, according to Jordan and Wizards coach Doug Collins, was whether or not Jordan's knee developed any swelling Wednesday morning following Tuesday's practice, and apparently there was none.
Jordan' return caught the team, which has 12 games remaining in the regular season and harbors slim hopes of reaching the playoffs, by surprise. Jordan, who underwent artrhoscopic surgery on his right knee on Feb. 27, was originally expected to return to the team in early April.
"He's definitely the toughest SOB I've ever been around," Popeye 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. He looked really good in practice and I guess that gave him enough confidence to let him know he was ready."
When Jordan finally entered the game with 2 minutes 55 seconds remaining in the first quarter, the Wizards were leading 23-21.
Jordan, who last played on Feb. 24 against the Miami Heat, missed his first two shots from the field rather badly. However, he closed out the quarter nicely, hitting a pair of jumpers his first and 18-footer with 1:04 left in the quarter, before leaving the game with 10:37 left in the second quarter.
The Wizards didn't need a whole lot from Jordan in the first half because others picked up the slack.
Leading 30-25 going into the second quarter, the Wizards led by double digits for most of the second quarter. Washington limited the Nuggets to just 14 points in the quarter while scoring 24 of their own.
Hamilton, who scored eight points in the first quarter, led the Wizards with 14 points. Tyronn Lue, who has played well on this road trip, added 11 points off the bench and finished with14. Antonio McDyess led Denver with 16 points, all of which came in the first half.
Notes
Wizards point guard Chris Whitney left the game in the first half with neck spasms. … Kwame Brown made his third start of the season.



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