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Jamison to Return, Test Injured Knee

Wizards' Star Has Missed 11 Games

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 5, 2005; Page D10

At one point during the Orlando Magic's 23-4 fourth-quarter run and throughout the Washington Wizards' loss to Indiana on Sunday, all-star forward Antawn Jamison thought about running into the locker room, ripping off his suit and putting on his No. 4 jersey.

The Wizards didn't need Jamison in their win against the Magic on Friday, but they surely could have used another offensive option in that 79-76 slog against the Pacers. So, with the team vying for home-court advantage in the playoffs, Jamison said the pain in his right knee has subsided and he plans to return tonight against the Boston Celtics at MCI Center.

Antawn Jamison is ready to test his knee with game action after missing 11 contests. (Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)

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"When we're winning, I'm comfortable. I'm relaxed. I'm like, 'Hey, I can sit down,' " Jamison said. "But sometimes, I feel like I'm letting them down when I'm not out there. It's tough watching the game. I felt like I could've contributed [against Indiana], and that's why I'm coming back, so we don't lose a step."

Jamison, the Wizards' third-leading scorer and leading rebounder, has been on the injured list for three weeks and has missed the past 11 games because of right knee tendinitis. His string of 386 consecutive games played ended in New York on March 8. After four days of rest, he came back against Boston and the Los Angeles Lakers, but Jamison limped up and down the court in both games before he was forced to sit.

He has been participating in shoot-arounds and pre-game warmups for more than a week -- he even had an impressive reverse dunk before the game in Orlando -- but after practicing in full for the first time in a couple of weeks, Jamison has proclaimed himself ready.

"If it was up to me, it would have been a possibility to play two weeks ago," said Jamison, who is averaging 19.6 points and 7.8 rebounds this season. "I don't want to get too excited, too ahead of myself. But I'm able to run up and down the court, jump off it a little bit without any pain. I really feel I can help my team, and we need it right now."

The Wizards (41-31) are tied with Chicago for the fourth seed in the East and need one more win to secure the franchise's first winning season in seven years.

Coach Eddie Jordan said that unless Jamison has a setback this morning, he will return to the starting lineup. "Whether he has it physically or not, he is still a leader," Jordan said. "We know we have that. What he brings to the floor we don't know until we see it."

They have gone 7-5 without Jamison but they have continued to combat injuries. Center Brendan Haywood is out for at least another two weeks with a broken left thumb and guard Larry Hughes sprained his left elbow in Orlando. Hughes played 34 minutes against the Pacers, scoring 12 points with eight rebounds and played solid defense on Reggie Miller and Stephen Jackson. But Hughes couldn't extend his left arm and shot 3 for 16 from the floor.

Hughes doesn't plan to miss any time because of the injury, but he admits that he will have to adjust until it heals. "The thumb is secondary now," said Hughes, who missed 20 games this season with a broken right thumb. The elbow "feels like an ankle sprain. First time I had something like this on the elbow. . . . I hope I'll be able to figure something out."

Jamison, Hughes and point guard Gilbert Arenas form the highest-scoring trio of teammates in the NBA at 67.3 points per game, but they have played only five games together since the all-star break.

Veteran reserve guard Anthony Peeler, who has missed 17 of the past 18 games with tendinitis in his right knee, also practiced yesterday and said he expects to be available when the team faces Detroit tomorrow. "I'm trying to see how it goes," said Peeler, who is averaging 3.9 points this season.

With the Wizards playing 10 games in the next 16 days -- including three sets of back-to-back games -- the team plans to take precautions with Jamison, limiting his minutes and possibly resting him for a couple of games and practices. "If it was up to me, it'd be every game," Jamison said. "They've got to make sure I don't overwork [the knee]. The coaching staff and the training staff, we realize the big picture and we're not going too far away from that."

After helping guide the Wizards to their surprising start, Jamison said he wants to get back to being a vocal leader as the franchise tries to secure the home-court edge in the playoffs for the first time since 1979.

Home-court advantage "means the world," Jamison said. "I know it's been tough, not having the full squad, but it makes a difference, playing here instead of playing at Cleveland or at Chicago. . . . Imagine coming to this building, a place that hasn't had the playoffs in [eight] years. Imagine that atmosphere. That could give us the momentum we need, that confidence as a team."

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