- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 26, 2002

The Washington Wizards have come to grips with an ugly reality: Michael Jordan is not going to be 100 percent for the stretch-run to the playoffs.
Following Jordan's first full practice with the team yesterday before that he had participated in just shootarounds Wizards coach Doug Collins said Jordan, recovering from knee surgery less than one month ago, still is not ready to re-enter the starting lineup.
"If I were to do that it would make his knee surgery worthless," Collins said. "He would go to get his knee fixed so that he could play, then we'd overplay him and now he'd be unable to play because his knee is swollen again. He's not ready to play that amount of minutes yet. Today was his first practice. I think Michael would tell you conditioning-wise he can't play 30-35 minutes right now."
This is the Catch-22 situation the Wizards (32-38) find themselves in with just 12 games left in the regular season. Jordan is their best player, and they desperately need him on the court and in games if they are going to have a prayer at closing the 3-game margin between them and the Indiana Pacers for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
However, because Jordan's knee is not 100 percent not to mention the fact that his conditioning isn't anywhere near where it would have been had he not missed 12 games the Wizards are unable to utilize Jordan's skills when they need them most.
Jordan has indicated he'd like to be back in the starting lineup soon. In his place the Wizards are starting Courtney Alexander.
"My wind is starting to come back," Jordan said. "Hopefully I can get myself back in the starting lineup pretty quickly. But I don't feel like I'm ready mentally to test that knee as much as I probably want to be. And that's because I just haven't really had the practice that I want. I don't think it's really 100 percent."
In his 13 seasons in Chicago, Jordan never missed the playoffs, a streak that is clearly in jeopardy. This season he already has had some streaks interrupted, most notably having his string of 866 consecutive games scoring in double figures snapped Dec. 27 at Indiana.
However, Jordan acknowledged that was almost a meaningless statistic for him. However, missing the playoffs would be a little harder to swallow.
"I'm attached to it," Jordan said of the playoff streak. "Obviously I want to make the playoffs. But at the same time you have to look at what we're trying to do here in Washington. The playoffs is a successful season for us in the sense that it gives us motivation going into next season. If we don't then I think we have to look at it as we were not as successful as we wanted to be.
"We had a lot of opportunities. You could say that injuries had a lot to do with it, but we've had a good shot at making the playoffs as weak as the East is. So, yes. That is a particular stat that I'd like to keep intact."
The most minutes Jordan has played since his return from injury were the 22 he logged Sunday against Toronto. However, he is still rusty. The 14 points he scored against the Raptors represent his best outing in the three games since he returned.
But Jordan is clearly struggling with his shot. Not only was he off the mark on his potential game-winning jumper with time expiring against Toronto, but Jordan has made just 12 of 38 shots from the field.
If recent history means anything, the Wizards might not need much from Jordan tonight against Denver, which would be a good thing. Washington beat the Nuggets by 32 points at Pepsi Center last Wednesday. Since that time the Nuggets have lost guard Tim Hardaway for the season (left foot) and placed forward Antonio McDyess on the injured list (inflamed left knee).
Tonight's game will mark former Wizard Juwan Howard's first game in Washington since he was dealt to Dallas in February 2001. More importantly to the Wizards, though, it represents the first and the most winnable of a four-game homestand that will also see Milwaukee, Dallas and the Los Angeles Lakers come to town.
"This is a crucial game for us, no question about it," Alexander said. "And we're a better team with Michael out there. It's just a matter of how much he can take and what coach Collins feels comfortable with."


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