Wizards’ Al Harrington plans to return soon to help beleaguered bench

November 29, 2013

I realize the team needs some help. (EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS)

INDIANAPOLIS – Al Harrington provided a Thanksgiving meal for his teammates but he’s not sure when he will be able to assist the Wizards on floor.

Harrington played just 10 games last season as he recovered from right knee surgery and worked hard in the offseason to get back into shape to push through another campaign, his 16th in the NBA. But this season has been arduous and he will miss his ninth straight game with soreness in his knee when the Wizards take on the Indiana Pacers on Friday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“I don’t know where I am right now or the next time I’m going to play. Hopefully soon,” a frustrated Harrington said this week. “I did everything humanly possible to play, but I had a little bit of bad luck. My knee’s feeling a lot better. Hopefully, if not this week, next week for sure.”

The Wizards’ bench has been lackluster for much of the season, but it has been mostly non-existent since Harrington was forced to sit in San Antonio. That night, the second unit contributed 30 points – but that was only because Trevor Ariza strained his right hamstring in the first half and Martell Webster scored 21 points as his fill-in.

In the next six games, Wizards reserves combined to score a total of 55 points (9.2 points per game), failing to reach double digits four times. Wizards starters have carried a heavier load and were responsible for 110 of the team’s 116 points in a shootout with the Los Angeles Lakers. This season, the Wizards rank last in bench scoring at 18.9 points – no other team in the NBA gets fewer than 22 points per game from its reserves.

“We’ve got to get a little bit better production out of our bench, so that we can rest these guys a little bit more,” Harrington said. “Hopefully, that’ll happen when I get back and we can get one of these other guys, too. So that we can take a little bit of pressure off of [the starters] and get them rest. I don’t think we can survive a whole season with these type of minutes. that’s something we’re going to have to work on internally but we know what we facing. We know what we got to do and we got to work with it.”

The Wizards (7-8) have recently welcomed back Chris Singleton (left foot) and Otto Porter Jr. (right hip) has started practicing, so Randy Wittman will soon have more options. Webster will move back into a backup role when Bradley Beal returns from his right leg injury but until then, Coach Randy will hope for efforts similar to what his bench provided on Wednesday in Milwaukee on the second end of back-to-back games.

Wizards reserves scored 13 of their 15 points in the first half and gave Wittman a chance to give his starters some quality rest for the second half, when they had the energy to make a final charge to come back and win in overtime. Garrett Temple led the backups with six points and Kevin Seraphin was the only bench player with a negative plus-minus (-2).

“Our bench played better,” Wittman said. “I saw a spark there in them.”

Harrington is averaging 7.9 points this season and scored in double figures three times, including a season-high 15 in an overtime win over Brooklyn.  Acquired to play the role of stretch four, Harrington has also converted 12 of 28 shots (42.9 percent) from long distance. He is anxious to help a team that has won five of its past six games and appears to have righted the ship after a sluggish start.

“We’re going growing,” Harrington said. “Everybody has picked up there level of play. John has been playing unbelievable. Nene has been playing unbelievable. Since I’ve been with him, I’ve never seen this many 20 point games out of him. I think everybody is realizing, if they do what they supposed to do, I think this is the team we can be, we can reach our potential. Right now, all the guys are locked in.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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