Wizards want to keep their edge after enduring a grueling stretch

December 3, 2013

We won’t be chilling for long. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Near the conclusion of a taxing two-week stretch of games that provided little time for recovery and had Trevor Ariza recalling the lockout-shortened schedule of two years ago, the Washington Wizards starters got some much-needed rest Monday in the fourth quarter of the team’s 98-80 win over the Orlando Magic.

Ariza had a chance to laugh with the injured Al Harrington while listening to a story from assistant coach Sam Cassell. John Wall got to attach ice packs to his knees and crack jokes. Marcin Gortat mostly sat, arms folded, wishing that he could get back on the floor.

“It was not good. I want to play,” Gortat said afterward. “I wasn’t tired at all. I was able to play another 12 minutes.”

The Wizards (9-9) won’t play nine games in 14 days again this season, but the team found its identity and gained considerable confidence after going 7-2 and rising to the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. Though he still felt energized enough to keep playing against Orlando, Gortat admitted that there were times when his body was pushed to the limit, especially when the Wizards played four sets of back-to-back games in consecutive weeks.

“It was tough, I’m not going to lie,” Gortat said. “Even the best players, in the best shape, start feeling tired after the two weeks that we had. It wasn’t easy, but it was a tough test for us, and I think we passed. I’m glad we got some wins in the tough stretch. Now we get more time off. Heal our bodies.”

Beginning on Friday against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Wizards’ next nine games will be stretched out over 21 days and they will only have to play two sets of back-to-back games. After playing Boston on Dec. 21, the Wizards will have a five-day break before taking on the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“The schedule relaxes a little bit, but we can’t relax,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “That’s the main thing. We’ve put in a lot of hard work these last few weeks to establish ourselves. Now we’ve got to build on that. You got to want more and you’ve got to put forth and you can’t let it go to waste.”

Wittman doesn’t want his players to lose their edge and they at least sounded like a group that every intention of maintaining focus. Despite being given the day off Tuesday, most showed still up to lift weights, take extra shots or at least work with the athletic trainers and receive treatment.

“No days off,” said Martell Webster, who averaged a team-high 39.8 minutes over the past nine games. “It’s easy to get complacent when you start to win. You stop doing the things that get you there, but that’s not the focus of this team, just to keep the rhythm. Even if it means coming in to get some maintenance done. It’s that idea of getting in and staying in your routine.”

The Wizards will spend the next two days practicing and possibly incorporating some injured players. Rookie Otto Porter Jr. has only been able to practice once but has participated in shootarounds and could make his debut this week, depending on how his right hip fares and his grasp of the schemes after being sidelined for more than two months after straining his right hip flexor. The Wizards can be patient with Porter because, after Friday’s game, the team won’t play again until Monday, take off three more days and play Atlanta on Dec. 13.

“Otto, we’ve got to get on the floor and get after him and get him going and see where we are,” Wittman said, adding that he might take it lighter with some of his starters, who have logged heavy minutes this season. “They’ll get rest. I might not be very smart, but I’m not that dumb. Guys that need rest will get rest, trust me.”

Harrington has missed the past 11 games with a sore right knee and is hoping to come back soon.

Nene was forced to sit out a game with a sore right Achilles’ tendon but returned to help the Wizards defeat Atlanta and Orlando. He was looking forward to sparing his body from the physical grind for a few days. “The schedule is going to be more flexible to us, to do whatever we need to do. And I think all the players are going to start feeling better,” Nene said. “It’s going to be positive to have a little break of games, going to be able to clean a couple of things and be close to the family. That’s a good thing.”

The compressed collection of games and non-stop travel had some of the players confused about the days of the week and their whereabouts when they woke up. “That’s really rough,” Ariza said. “We fought through it, we got through it and we’re looking to continue on what we’ve been doing.”

Gortat said he has no intention of letting up. “You got to stay on top of your game,” he said. “You can’t get excited. We still got to win some games.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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Michael Lee · December 3, 2013