BOWIE — BOWIE -- Alone on a fast break during his first day back at practice, Washington Bullets forward Chris Webber did something unusual. Instead of slamming the ball with his right hand or with two hands, he went in with his left -- immediately testing the left shoulder he dislocated during the preseason.
"When he went up for that left-handed jam," said J. Gregory Bennett, Webber's physical therapist, "it made me nervous."
But that nervousness proved to be unfounded -- at least yesterday. Although the risk is high that another dislocation may occur, and he eventually will need surgery, Webber was impressive enough that he was activated off the injured list last night.
He won't play tonight against the New Jersey Nets because he has to serve a one-game suspension for his preseason fight with Chicago Bulls center Luc Longley, but Webber will start Thursday when the Bullets play the Cleveland Cavaliers at USAir Arena.
And he expects to play a lot.
"If I don't play my normal time, I don't want to play," Webber said. "Put me back in there when I'm ready to play. This is something you can't baby. If I can't get the time I want to play, it's not good for me to come back."
Webber will have no problem with playing time, said coach Jim Lynam.
"I don't have a number, but my guess is he'll play somewhere between 30 and 40 minutes," Lynam said. "I think he felt good, but I also think he felt rusty. He didn't seem to get unduly tired, which is one of the things you look for. I thought he looked terrific."
To make room for Webber the Bullets waived Mike Peplowski, who signed Nov. 9 and was scoreless in five minutes of play. Webber practiced with the second team, but he'll step into the starting lineup Thursday in place of Rasheed Wallace at power forward.
"From a pure basketball standpoint, it makes us a deeper team because now we have a starter caliber player coming off the bench," Bullets general manager John Nash said. "Psychologically, it gives you a tremendous boost because you're putting somebody out there who is as good as anyone on a roster. I don't know what will happen when Chris plays, but your top six just got real good."
The absence ends more than a month of frustration for Webber.
"It's been hard to sit and watch," he said. "It's like seeing something on fire and you can't put it out, even though you have a hose in your hand."
Opponent: New Jersey Nets
Site: Brendan Byrne Arena, East Rutherford, N.J.
TV/Radio: Channel 50/WWLG (1360 AM), WTEM (570 AM)
Outlook: The Nets (4-8) have lost four straight, dropping their entire recent West Coast trip, but are 4-0 at home. With F Derrick Coleman (irregular heartbeat) yet to play this season, New Jersey is led in scoring by F Armon Gilliam (16.1 ppg, 10.2 rpg). Rookie F Ed O'Bannon is averaging 6.4 ppg while playing just under 20 minutes. The Bullets, coming off Saturday's loss to Orlando, have won two of their past three. F Juwan Howard (20.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and G Robert Pack (19.7 ppg, 9.4 apg) lead the balanced Bullets attack. G Tim Legler leads the league in three-point shooting percentage (14 of 24, 58.3 percent).