About an hour before the Wizards tipped off against the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday, Coach Flip Saunders summoned Yi Jianlian to his office. When he walked out a few minutes later, the hint of a smile had come over Yi’s face because he discovered that he was going to get his this third start of the season, his first since Dec. 14.
“It felt great. I feel very excited for the start,” Yi said afterward. “I haven’t been playing the last two months. Chance to tell myself, ‘Get ready. Be aggressive on the floor.’ ”
Yi responded to the start by scoring the Wizards’ first four points, knocking down back-to-back 19-foot jumpers to give his team an early lead. Yi scored seven of his season-high 14 points in the first period, but didn’t get many touches the rest of the game and was gassed in the fourth quarter, when he missed three free throws as the team was making a final push.
“Yi was so tired in the fourth quarter,” Saunders said. “Going after a loose ball, was like going in quick sand, slow motion. But he got us off to a good start, did some positive things. I hope he’ll be able to help us a little bit.”
Yi is hoping that he can do the same, with the final 16 games serving as an opportunity for him to leave an impression as he enters the uncertainty of restricted free agency this summer. Yi is averaging career-lows with just 5 points and 3.3 rebounds in 47 games this season, but he doesn’t want to waste the chance he has now, with Rashard Lewis likely out for the remainder of the season and no timetable set for the return of Andray Blatche.
“For me it is a good opportunity to play for the rest of the season. Every minute for me is important,” Yi said. “Now I get some playing time. I got to use it to get ready for the future.”
When Yi made his previous start against the Los Angeles Lakers, he was knocked out after five minutes as Lamar Odom landed on his injured right knee. Yi would go on to miss the next 10 games and never regained his rhythm, especially after Lewis was acquired from Orlando and Trevor Booker worked his way into the rotation.
After playing a season-high 41 minutes against the Bulls -- his previous best was 32, back on Nov. 12 -- Yi added that he’ll be ready the next time the Wizards need him in the fourth quarter. “I think I got a little bit [tired] the last quarter” in Chicago, he said, “but now is much better. I haven’t been playing that much. I just need a little game feeling.”