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Webber doesn't want to 'mess up' flow

SACRAMENTO -- For the rest of the season, Chris Webber will
be striving for two things he's never owned: a championship ring
and a low profile.

Webber returned to the Sacramento Kings' lineup Tuesday night
after knee surgery, nine months of rehabilitation and an eight-game
suspension. He replaced All-Star Brad Miller in the starting lineup
against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Webber hoped to slip back into the Kings' rotation quietly to
avoid disturbing the team chemistry -- but he couldn't avoid
attention in his season debut.

The Sacramento crowd roared during a brief video tribute to
Webber before pregame introductions. When the public-address
announcer began to introduce Webber, he was drowned out by cheers
from the sellout crowd -- and when Webber took the court for the
opening tip, the fans went crazy again.

Webber wasted no time, scoring on the Kings' first possession
with a short jump-hook over two defenders. Moments later, he drove
aggressively to the hole and barely missed a one-handed dunk while
being fouled by Chris Kaman.

Webber wore large braces on both knees, but seemed comfortable
running and jumping.

"I think it'll be a tough adjustment period," Webber said
earlier. "This is the longest in my life since playing basketball
that I've gone without playing -- approximately 10 months. I think
one of my biggest things is to not let the crowd get me so tight
that I try to dunk from half court.

"I want to use that energy to the good, not energy that you
can't control."

The five-time All-Star hadn't played since last summer's
playoffs, when he was injured against Dallas. He has been
practicing with the Kings for nearly two months, but was suspended
when the Kings activated him from the injured list after the
All-Star break.

Webber led the Kings in points, rebounds and assists last
season, but realizes his return could be a disruption to
Sacramento's superb season. The Kings, who lead the NBA in scoring
and winning percentage, seem headed for their third straight
Pacific Division title -- and Webber just wants to fit in.

"I think it'll just be a good thing," Miller said. "He's a
great player, and I've never played with him yet. I'm looking
forward to it."

Coach Rick Adelman also must perform a delicate operation during
Sacramento's final 24 regular-season games: working Webber back
into the rotation without disrupting the Kings' impressive
chemistry. He will monitor Webber's playing time closely.

"You don't want to get him hurt again, but you also want to get
the process started where he can be as strong and as resilient as
he ever was," Adelman said. "You've got to play to get to that
point, and I think he'll be there before too long."

Miller, Vlade Divac, Darius Songaila and Tony Massenburg all
seem likely to play fewer minutes with Webber back, while All-Star
Peja Stojakovic and Mike Bibby almost certainly will get fewer
shots. But none of the players in Sacramento's close-knit locker
room would dream of complaining -- particularly because Webber is
well-liked by all the Kings.

From his seat behind the bench over the past four months, Webber
has seen his teammates' growing cohesion.

"I've had a chance to watch our team, and I don't want to mess
up our flow," Webber said. "My main thing is for us to continue
winning, not for me to come back and try to average a million
points, but to stay within myself."

Webber has been mostly tightlipped on the particulars of his
suspension of five games for violating the league's drug policy,
and three for pleading guilty to lying to a grand jury
investigating the scandal at the University of Michigan.

Michigan booster Ed Martin, who died last year, said he gave
Webber and his family $280,000 over a six-year period. Webber was
sentenced to community service last summer after pleading guilty to
criminal contempt.

The drug ban was particularly disquieting to Kings fans who have
stood behind Webber as his college troubles unraveled over the past
three years. Webber only has termed the ban "disappointing" -- and
he hopes his return to the court will obscure his troubles for now.

"I'm excited, but I haven't had the goosebumps, because this
atmosphere is so light here, with the team making fun and making
jokes," Webber said. "Butterflies are good, though, because they
make you push. I know they're going to come. I just don't know
when."