- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 1, 2004

Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan has targeted the first game following the NBA All-Star Game on Feb.15 as the possible earliest return for injured players Jerry Stackhouse and Gilbert Arenas.

But their improving condition and participation in practices last week have Jordan thinking Arenas might return earlier.

The point guard is on the injured list with a severely strained abdomen and groin injury; Stackhouse has missed the entire season following arthroscopic knee surgery.

“We’ll see how they feel tomorrow,” Jordan said following yesterday’s practice at MCI Center. “With Gilbert we’re looking for him to come back maybe right before the All-Star break — maybe [earlier].”

No date has been set for Stackhouse’s return, but for the first time Jordan indicated that it could be as early as Feb.17 at Houston.

Both practiced yesterday, and though Jordan emphasized that “neither player is 100 percent,” he said the fact that both players were able to get through recent workouts without pain was a good sign.

“True, the more they practice, the more you see a little bit of a limp out of them, the more you’ll see them grimace,” Jordan said. “But it’s that time of year that guys do that.”

Arenas suffered a strained groin Nov.23 against Seattle and has appeared in 20 of 45 games. Arenas, who was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player last season at Golden State, is averaging 18.2 points, five assists and 4.8 rebounds in those games despite playing hurt.

Arenas, who has conceded that his two unsuccessful attempted returns were the result of his desire to play, has said in recent days that he feels better than at any time since the injury.

Earlier in the week Arenas said he felt “good enough to play right now” and “much better” than when he tried to come back earlier. But he said he wants to be more cautious this time.

“I want to play,” Arenas said last week. “But I’m going to wait until after the All-Star Game and try to focus on getting back for the Houston game.”

Stackhouse, the Wizards’ leading scorer last season (21.5), appears to be favoring his knee, especially when he lands after jumping.

Despite their record (14-31, sixth in Atlantic Division), the Wizards have won four of their last seven games and are getting better play in the post from Kwame Brown. Brown posted his third consecutive double-double Friday (19 points, 10 rebounds), and the Wizards, who play Cleveland (17-29) today at MCI Center, clearly are playing better basketball.

“I want to be as honest as I can be,” Jordan said. “Certainly the fans want some sense of optimism about the guys and their return. That’s what the doctors tell us, and I think everything is going according to plan. There are no setbacks.”

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