DENVER – Al Harrington had the last truly productive season of his career with the Denver Nuggets in 2011-12, when he averaged 14.2 points for a team that lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games in the first round of the playoffs. Harrington had been dealing with a nagging right knee injury for that latter part of that campaign and elected to have a seemingly routine surgery to fix a torn meniscus.
The procedure, however, led a staph infection that had him hospitalized and nearly cost Harrington his life. The Nuggets traded Harrington to Orlando later that summer in a four-team deal and the 15-year veteran’s career has been a struggle ever since. After a slow recovery, Harrington rarely played in Orlando before getting bought out. And he has been fighting through recurring problems with the same knee this season.
But as he returns to Denver for the first time since he was traded more than two years ago, Harrington might be rounding into something close to his desired form with the Wizards. In the Wizards’ 117-107 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday, Harrington matched his season high with 15 points, recording his first double-digit scoring game since Nov. 10 in Oklahoma City.
“It felt good,” Harrington said. “Obviously, I missed a couple of layups, a couple of threes rimmed out. I could’ve had 20 plus. Hopefully, I’m saving it for a big game in the playoffs.”
Coach Randy Wittman limited Harrington to six minutes in Portland, on the first end of the back-to-back set, and let him loose for a season-high 26 minutes against the Lakers. Harrington remains on a minutes restriction as he eases his way back from having another procedure to remove particles in his right knee last December.
“Al did his thing,” Trevor Ariza said after the Lakers’ game about Harrington. “That’s what we’re used to seeing from him. Throughout his years in the NBA. I know it’s been a little tough for him, lately, because he can’t do what he knows he can do. It was a good night for him.”
Harrington made two three-pointers in the win to raise his long-distance percentage to 23.6 (9 for 38) since returning to action last month. In his past 15 games, is averaging 5.5 points but shooting just 37.2 percent from the field. With his jumper not falling, Harrington has been more effective putting the ball on the floor and attacking the rim for layups and the occasional dunk. He is trying to remain patient.
“I thought it would take me exactly 10 games before I could find my rhythm, but it took me a little bit longer,” Harrington said. “I’m just going to take it one day at a time. Just try to stay aggressive, stay confident, because obviously, when you’re missing shots, rimming out, it’s easy to kind of shy away from it or whatever. Just trying to keep a good balance of shooting and driving to the basket.”
Before his knee procedure two years ago, Harrington averaged 13.8 points in 937 career games. In the two seasons since, Harrington has averaged 5.9 points in just 32 games.
According to a person with knowledge of the situation, Harrington could need another surgery after this season, which could affect his plans to continue his career. Harrington, 34, was recently asked if he would retire after this season. He smirked and shook his head, unwilling to contemplate the possibility.
“We’ll have to wait and see,” Harrington said. “It’s a tough subject to even talk about freely like that, because I love the game so much. I’ll just have to wait until the season is over.”