JaVale McGee could feel that the task of running up and down the court and competing at a high level was getting more and more difficult. Breathing was a challenge, he was having a hard time staying on the floor, and his production had taken a noticeable dive.
After the Wizards lost to New York last week, the coaches convinced McGee finally to get checked out because he was getting exhausted too quickly. He visited with the same doctor who had discovered his athletic asthma nearly two years ago and found out his symptoms were more complications from the condition.
“They said I was breathing at like 75 percent,” McGee said of the doctor, who prescribed a different medicine that has helped promote some of his most inspired play of the season. “If you can’t breathe, you can’t do nothing.”
In his past two games against Miami and Detroit, McGee has made his presence felt on both ends of the court, combining to score 46 points on 20 of 31 shooting (64.5 percent), grab 24 rebounds and block three shots. He had consecutive games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds for the first time since November 2010.
McGee punished the rims at the Palace of Auburn Hills, with a season-high eight dunks, and finished tied with Nick Young for a team-leading 22 points in a 98-77 win over the Pistons, Detroit Coach Lawrence Frank acknowledged the game-changing 22-2 second-half run but said, “the MVP of the game was JaVale McGee. Now he had eight dunks, but even though he had one or two blocked shots, he impacted the game on the defensive end. You have to give him a lot of credit.”
John Wall scored only nine points and didn’t feel obligated to force anything offensively with McGee giving him a viable option to dump off the ball in pick-and-roll situations. Wall got seven of his career-high-tying 15 assists on passes or alley-oop lobs to McGee, and said afterward that an engaged and energized McGee makes the Wizards better.
“It’s big,” Wall said. “He does a great job defensively, protecting the rim and rebounding. So we try to get him the ball on offense. We told him, ‘Just set good screens. You set good screens, you’re going to get other people shots in the beginning, but down the road, you find them and start getting open shots and easy alley-oops. You basically just throw it up anywhere near the rim and he goes and gets it.”
McGee has been working diligently with assistant Don Zierden before games this season, which has resulted in him posting career-highs of 11.6 points, 9.0 rebounds and an NBA-best 2.8 blocked shots. Last month, he became the first Wizards/Bullets player since Gheorghe Muresan to have two games with at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots in the same month.
But his production started to taper off in the first five games of February, as McGee scored a total of 34 points, grabbed 33 rebounds and committed 22 fouls. Coach Randy Wittman dismissed his early February swoon as him dealing with the “dog days” of the NBA schedule. When asked about the difference in McGee the past two games, Wittman said, “JaVale was active.”
Now the reason why McGee had so much energy and appears to have come out of his slump is clear. “I just couldn’t breathe,” McGee said. “I feel a lot better. I feel I can stay out there longer now. I got to just take my medicine.”
McGee added that there was extra incentive to perform well on Sunday, with the Flint, Mich., native back in his home state. After losing his first five career games at the Palace of Auburn Hills, McGee finally got a road win over the Pistons and held his own in a duel with former Georgetown star Greg Monroe. He will have more challenges on this trip, facing Portland veteran Marcus Camby, Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan and Utah big man Al Jefferson.
“I just have to stay aggressive. Just try my hardest to be consistent,” McGee said.
And with the help of his new asthma medication, he was able to finish strongly as well.
“Hopefully that’s what helping, his breathing. But he’s playing from a standpoint of knowing a little bit more what his time on the floor is going to be, and he’s getting up and down the floor,” Wittman said. “His ability to guard the rim, he changed so many shots and that’s what he can do for us. It’s got to be a situation where if he’s not scoring, he’s got to do those other things, which sometimes I think he lets his scoring affect other parts of the game and he’s capable of changing a game without that.”