Jordan confident in return to lineup

Tuesday, December 3, 2002

WASHINGTON -- The doubts about the knees are gone. Michael Jordan has made his inevitable return to the starting lineup, and he's there to stay.

The experiment that had Jordan coming off the bench for the Washington Wizards went on the shelf for good Saturday night against Philadelphia. Jordan will start again today against Milwaukee and plans to do so as long as his body holds up.

"Early on in this season, I still had doubts," Jordan said Monday. "Am I feeling OK today? Will I feel better tomorrow? Should I go left, go right? Can I land on this knee? That is over and done."

Jordan as a sixth man wasn't really a success, anyway. Jerry Stackhouse said Jordan would throw things "out of sync" by entering the game midway through the first quarter. The Wizards (6-10) have lost six straight, making Jordan even more antsy as he sat on the bench.

Jordan and coach Doug Collins agreed that he wasn't ready to start at the beginning of the season because he had rested his knee so much over the summer and had played so little in the preseason.

"That is one of the reasons why me starting would have been disastrous," said Jordan, who turns 40 in February. "I wasn't ready to start. Now, I'm ready to start. I've been waiting for the time when Doug felt like it was appropriate.

"Physically, I'm ready for it. I can play 37, 38 minutes if I have to. It's a different 37, 38 than last year. Last year, I was asked to carry a lot on both ends. Now I can divert some of that energy to Stack and other players."

Asked if his desire to start was the result of his knees feeling better or his frustration over the losing streak, Jordan said: "Both."

"The third quarter is when we've been getting killed," said Jordan, who is averaging 29 minutes and 16 points. "The one quarter we get outscored, we let a team back in, momentum switches and it's a fight from there to the end. Hopefully my difference is going to be felt in the third quarter."

Jordan said he hopes to get in the lane more and shoot more free throws, rather than lingering on the perimeter as he did when he substituted for Bryon Russell.

"It gives our team a chance to get some continuity from the start and sustain it for the whole quarter," Stackhouse said.

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