John Wall grabbed a basketball from the rack, took a dribble, then launched a shot from behind the backboard that dropped in before the Washington Wizards’ shootaround on Friday at Verizon Center. Wall didn’t celebrate the lucky shot, or even stop for acknowledgment, as he got the ball back and carried on as if nothing happened.
The return of the former No. 1 overall pick to limited-contact practice has overshadowed almost everything surrounding the Wizards, but Coach Randy Wittman is cautious about rushing him back after an extended absence with a serious left knee injury.
Plus, the Wizards are moving closer to getting some other reinforcements this month in A.J. Price, Trevor Booker and Trevor Ariza, who will be a game-time decision for Friday night’s against the Brooklyn Nets. No matter what, Wittman expects to Ariza back before any other members of the injured quartet.
“Yes, if I had to rank them,” Wittman said.
Ariza moved gingerly onto the main court on Friday but explained that he was reacting more to the chilly arena than any problems in the strained left calf that has keep sidelined since Dec. 4. He is anxious but being cautious about coming back too soon, but remains hopeful to play against the Nets.
“Yeah, if I can, if it’s not sore,” Ariza said this week. “If it’s not fatigued or tight, definitely. I don’t really have any explosion off of it yet, the way I want it to be. But it’s pretty good.”
The Wizards will have to find a way to hold back their other Trevor, with Booker so eager to come back by Jan. 12, that he sneaked in a little more than simple non-contact, “dummy” work during Thursday’s practice despite recovering from a strained right patella tendon.
“I did some contact. I wasn’t supposed to, but I snuck in while he wasn’t looking,” Booker said of Wittman. “But I felt pretty good, and then he took me out. I had to stop. I wanted to do more, but the trainer wouldn’t let me so I guess he’s being smart about it.”
Booker has been out since elevating for a layup in a loss against Indiana on Nov. 19 and landing awkwardly. He hasn’t played since, but admitted that he had playing hurt long before his body forced him to stop.
“I actually played with it for a few games, probably like nine games. It was a slight tear. I think I made it worse by playing on it so I had to sit out and just let it heal,” said Booker, who has missed significant time in each of his first three seasons in Washington. “It’s definitely tough. I went from never being injured in college, in high school, to coming here and being injured in my first couple years so it’s different for me. But I’m glad to be back on the court now.”
Price also started participating in five-on-none drills on Thursday and wore some protective padding on his broken right hand. Out since swiping for a rebound on Dec. 8 against Golden State, Price could return as a backup, depending on when Wall returns.
The injury robbed him of a valuable opportunity to run his own team, and he was especially disappointed about missing the Wizards’ final game this season in Indiana, where he spent his first three seasons.
“Not only that, just the style of play, I think I could’ve flourished in that kind of game, just the way my game was,” he said. “So it was difficult to sit out and once again, we have a chance to win, too. So that makes it doubly, equally tough.”
Price is probably a week or two away, but is feeling better after having the cast removed from his right hand last week. “I feel really good,” he said. “If I had to put a percentage, I would say 80 percent right now. So we’ll see what happens in the next week or so and after I’m cleared, I’ll be ready to go.”
Booker, Ariza and Price have all played and contributed to the Wizards getting off to a franchise-worst 4-26 start, but Booker is optimistic that the fortunes of the team will change once all three of them return – with Wall. “Once we get everybody healthy, then we’re going to be pretty good,” Booker said.