In his third game since returning from a three-month absence, Al Harrington couldn’t help but feel a little confident after seeing a couple of shots drop against the Orlando Magic on Tuesday night. Harrington finished a fast-break layup off the beautiful lob pass from Andre Miller, set a screen and made a three-pointer after rolling to top of the key and picked off an errant pass from Victor Oladipo, beat Tobias Harris – a player more than 12 years his junior – up the court and converted a nimble lefty reverse layup.
So when he later got the ball above the three-point line and Magic center Nikola Vucevic was guarding him, Harrington decided to push himself to see exactly what he can do on his surgically repaired right knee. He easily blew past Vucevic, exploded off two legs and elevated for a two-handed dunk – but the ball hit the back of the rim and bounded high as he swung around stunned. Afterward, the 34-year-old Harrington heard plenty of jokes from his teammates about his missed dunk, but he had an easy explanation.
“They been killing me, but like I told them, I jumped a little too high. It happens sometimes,” Harrington said with a laugh. “Like LeBron, my elbow hit the rim, my head hit the corner of the thing, it was crazy.”
Unlike his previous game in Cleveland — where Coach Randy Wittman said Harrington was panting like a “doggie” after a seven-minute stint — the 15-year veteran forward didn’t want to leave the floor against Orlando. And that had more to do with how he was feeling, not a desire to stick it to the team that used him sparingly last season.
“When you get out there you just want to play,” Harrington said after the Wizards’ 115-106 win over Orlando. “Last game I was tired. This game I wasn’t tired. I guess it’s going to be up and down for me. Coach did a great job taking me out, saving me for Toronto” on Thursday night.
Harrington had surgery on his right knee in December to remove loose particles and has had to prove to Wittman that he was physically capable of getting back on the floor after gaining confidence in his leg. His return comes at the same time that Nene will miss the next six weeks with a sprained left knee ligament and Kevin Seraphin continues to deal with swelling in his right knee.
Wittman appreciates having more veterans that he can rely upon to help ease the team through difficult stretches on the floor. But he also can’t put too much on 30-somethings like Harrington and Miller, who are returning from long layoffs. Harrington remains on a minute restriction of 15 to 18 minutes.
“Al, we just have to be careful with because we want Al for the rest of the seven weeks we have in the regular season,” said Wittman, who also had to put Bradley Beal and Nene on minute restrictions that wreaked havoc with his rotations. “I’ve got to be careful, especially with the injuries that we have. I’ve got to bring Al along slowly. I didn’t want to go any longer than 12, 13, 14 minutes after he went seven minutes in Cleveland. We’ll see how he responds and where he’s at as we move forward.”
Miller has averaged four points and three assists in his first three games since arriving in a deadline deal with Denver. He has been most impressive with his precision passing, such as his lob to Harrington in which he took one dribble and tossed it from beyond half court over Drew Nicholson. He made a similar pass in his debut against New Orleans, when took a pass near the opposing foul line, spun and threw the ball out ahead to Bradley Beal for a layup.
“Just keeps the chemistry going,” Beal said. “It’s like they’ve been playing with us all year. Andre out there, his eye contact with me and the things I’m learning as we go has been tremendous for me and we’ve got Al back. That gives another shooter and a guy that can put the ball on the floor, too. Those are two great vets for us, two great leaders and when they get going, they are just involved. It makes us a better team.”
With the trade for the 38-year-old Miller, the 10-day signing of the 32-year-old Drew Gooden and return of Harrington, the Wizards have gotten a little older in their pursuit of a postseason appearance. Wittman believes that the value of experience can’t be quantified simply by statistics.
“You could see it and that’s important,” Wittman said of the calming influence of Miller and Harrington. “Obviously, with Al coming back, it’s a big step. And Dre, from when he first got here to [Tuesday], chattering on the floor is incredible. That just shows you he’s getting comfortable with where people should be and directing them and that helps guys that are young. Team goes on an 8-0 run, there’s not a panic switch. That keeps everybody calm.”
After he missed his uncontested dunk, Harrington didn’t stop to sulk. He hustled back on defense, tracked down Jameer Nelson and poked the ball from behind. John Wall scooped up the ball and showed his older teammate how to throw down a two-hand dunk.
“I told him I got the steal for him, because I owe him for making the great pass,” Harrington said. “That’s the chemistry me and him need to keep developing, because guys are really going hard to the three-point line. I’m going to have to get back to finishing like how I was when I was young.”