Bradley Beal is off the crutches, moving with a slight limp but also moving closer toward making his return soon from his sprained left ankle. Limited to free throws, Beal didn’t participate in Tuesday’s practice and will be doubtful when the Wizards attempt to win consecutive road games for the first time this season on Wednesday against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center.
“I’m not sure,” Beal said when asked if he would be available. “Depends on how good I feel. I’m day-to-day. We’ll just have to see. I really can’t do anything mobile yet. It’ll probably be another day or so before I get back into the groove.”
When his left ankle landed awkwardly near Nene’s foot and he had to be carried off the floor late in the fourth quarter of the Wizards’ 90-84 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday, Beal appeared as if he would miss significant time.
But Beal and the Wizards were more encouraged after the game, with the diagnosis that he had suffered a mild sprain. He still left the arena after Sunday’s win on crutches as a precautionary measure and felt some serious pain the next morning.
“It was throbbing, but it’s just part of the process. It’s just a sprain, so that’s a good thing,” Beal said. “Swelled up a little bit, but I kept it on ice and the swelling has gone down. It’s just a little sore right now.”
Beal has missed seven games already this season, with the Wizards (19-39) going 2-5 in his absence. He missed two games with a sore lower back in December after attempting, unwisely, to dunk on Atlanta Hawks shot-blocking forward Josh Smith and getting sent in the opposite direction. He missed five more when he drove baseline on Denver Nuggets center Kosta Koufos and got knocked on his right wrist. He chipped his front two teeth in a practice collision with teammate Cartier Martin — which didn’t cost him any time but affected his smile — and takes pride in referring to himself as “young and reckless.” He even wears clothing that boasts that phrase.
But his latest ailment wasn’t the result of being overly aggressive or playing with abandon. Beal simply left his feet, thinking that 76ers point guard Jrue Holiday was going to shoot, and nipped Nene’s shoe as he came down. He has been playing most of the season with a high right-ankle sprain, suffered in the preseason. Now he has two sore lower limbs.
“Yeah, I have injuries, but to me everything is mental. The mind beats the body any day. It’s really just how you approach things, or how you can overcome a certain obstacle,” Beal said. “There’s always going to be challenges in your life or a little adversity, but it’s how you recover from it and how you retaliate. I view it as a setback, but at the same time it’s like a major comeback. How you’re going to retaliate, how you’re going to pick up from it. This little injury won’t bother me at all. I’m still going to be mentally strong and tough enough to beat it.”
Beal was especially upset about spraining his ankle because he has taken all of the protective measures to shield them from harm, from taping them heavily before games to wearing high top shoes to rolling up high multiple pairs of thick socks.
“That’s the crazy thing. That’s what irritates me,” he said. “It’s something I’ll have to strengthen, especially during the offseason. That’s one of the things I’ll definitely have to work on.”
For now, Beal will just try to tell Nene to move his big feet out of the way when he comes down. “Yeah, but I won’t tell him that to his face,” Beal said. “He might pounce on me. It just happens. I can’t blame him. He was actually helping me out on defense.”
Nene helped the Wizards secure the win when he rebounded a miss with 28 seconds remaining, allowing John Wall to work down the clock for the game-clinching jumper. The challenge of playing a full 48 minutes, rather than just the final two will be much greater.
“It’s going to be a big miss because the rookie, man, he’s playing unbelievable right now,” Nene said.
The Wizards are 7-33 overall when they don’t have either Beal, Nene or John Wall. But Beal was confident that the Wizards would be able to compete and win if he’s unable to play.
“If I’m out of the lineup, that shouldn’t change how they approach the game,” he said. “We have great guys and guys who can step up and do what I was doing out there, or even do better. I’m not worried at all.”
Coach Randy Wittman certainly had a hard time watching the third overall pick from last June’s NBA draft go down.
“Not a fun thing to see,” Wittman said, when describing his reaction to the fall. Wittman added that Beal has showed tremendous growth in recent weeks with “his aggression, not just catching and shooting. Attacking the rim, getting to the free throw line, a combination of those things. He’s comfortable. Knows where his opportunities are, where they present themselves more and he’s playing with great confidence.”
Beal has scored in double figures in each of his past nine games, averaging 20 points over that stretch, and doesn’t want to disrupt in improved play for long. “I always want to come back soon. No one wants to sit out for a long time. Whatever it takes,” Beal said. “At the same time, I’m not going to rush back if I don’t feel as though I can be as explosive off this foot. We’ll just have to see. I’m day to day, I’ll rest it and ice it and see what I can do.”
Staff Writer Alex Prewitt contributed to this report