John Wall told Yahoo! Sports at halftime of the Wizards’ 87-84 loss to Cleveland on Wednesday night that he has targeted “some time in January” for his return to the team. Wall has increased his workload in recent days and hasn’t experienced any setbacks, but still wants to tread lightly with the stress injury in his left patella.
Meantime, the Wizards auditioned two new more fill-ins Wednesday as they wait for Wall to retun.
Shelvin Mack made his first career start, but fellow Developmental League call-up Garrett Temple finished the game after Mack injured his groin and was forced to sit the final five minutes. Mack said after the game that he should be fine, but after waiting on Wall and losing A.J. Price to a broken hand, Coach Randy Wittman wasn’t so sure.
“With what’s going on around here, keep your fingers crossed,” Wittman said.
Mack prompted the Wizards to one of their better starts of the season as Washington scored 17 points in the first six minutes, moved the ball adroitly and got up and down the floor as Wittman has envisioned his team playing all season. Mack had four assists in the first quarter, finding Emeka Okafor for a dunk that gave the Wizards a 22-10 lead.
“I saw growth. I saw a more confident player. He was decisive,” Okafor said of Mack, who returned to the team after being cut in training camp in late October. “I told him on the bench, ‘Hey, you’re doing a great job setting the pace. If you’re running, then everybody has to run to keep up with you.’ That’s what we needed. That quick start, it showed.”
Mack finished with six points and seven assists but didn’t expect to get the starting nod after signing with the team the day before and having only one practice under his belt. He was thrust into that position after Jordan Crawford was benched for the game’s start as a punishment for showing up late to the morning shootaround.
Crawford had started the previous eight games at point guard but has had some uneven performances while trying to find his teammates in the proper spots on the floor. Mack didn’t appear to have that problem and the team had few lengthy offensive droughts with him on the court.
“I was surprised, but I feel like I was ready for the opportunity and I played well,” Mack said of starting after playing his previous game for the Maine Red Claws of the D-League. “I think I did a great job of trying to get everybody involved, just try to be aggressive, and I feel like that worked out for me. Playing in the D-league helped me out being about to read situations, knowing when to throw in the ball and when not to throw in the ball.”
Temple had perhaps the greatest challenge. Mack had some familiarity with his teammates and Wittman’s system, but Temple was thrown in cold. Wittman simplified the offense by using terminology that Temple had learned from previous spots.
Back in the NBA after spending last season in Italy, Temple announced his return in emphatic fashion late in the second quarter when he had a nice exchange with Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving. Irving stepped back from Temple, then drilled a three-pointer over him, but Temple responded by driving around Irving and throwing down a vicious one-handed dunk.
“I had the lane open and tried to get the crowd hyped,” Temple said after scoring two points and handing out two assists in 19 minutes.
Not lacking in confidence, Temple didn’t hesitate to hoist a potential game-tying three with the Wizards trailing 82-79 in the final minute.
“I’m a basketball player — this is what I do. They brought me here,” Temple said. “Coach Witt had the confidence to have me in the game at the end, and Jordan kicked it out, it felt good, I thought it was going in, and it had a tough a roll. But I had the confidence, you know, being in the D-League, that’s something that helps you build the confidence, playing 35-40 minutes a game. It’s just a regular shot.”
Wittman said he certainly won’t have any hesitation leaning on Mack and Temple going forward. “They are going to be my point guards. We had pace. We had movement. The ball didn’t dribble. I liked that. Just thrust into a situation where I hope they’ll be more and more comfortable … Overall, I don’t have a complaint.”
But the wait for Wall continues.