The Wizards and Utah Jazz still had more than six minutes to play on Wednesday after Al Harrington did his pull-up on the rim, screamed and preened after his emphatic two-handed dunk. But the excited reaction from players on the Wizards’ bench and the delay in the Jazz inbounding the ball had Bradley Beal wondering if play had actually stopped for good.
“You just thought that it was the end of the game the way he dunked it,” Beal said of Harrington’s dunk. “I started laughing a little bit, man. He was energized. I told him he should’ve dunked a couple in the first half and he said ‘All right, I’ll make up for it.’ He gave us one.”
Harrington needed that dunk, given his grueling journey back from surgery on his right knee. The 15-year veteran had been working diligently with athletic trainer Thomas Knox to get his leg in good enough condition to compete but has confronted some gentle ribbing from his teammates and coaches about his age and wily style.
Coach Randy Wittman told him to avoid attempting dunks after an attempt last week against Orlando bounded off the back of the rim. And his teammates joked with him about the techniques he uses to get off shots.
“Guys were giving me a hard time for all the pump fakes I’ve been doing in the first half. I said if I got another opportunity in second half, I was going to jump, close my eyes and see what happened. It felt good,” Harrington said. “I’ve been dealing with a lot of heat here.”
Harrington has appeared in seven games since returning from his right knee injury but he has had to adjust his game and find other ways to be effective while he continues to search for his rhythm.
That has meant more slashing and driving until his perimeter shot starts dropping. Harrington scored eight points in the Wizards’ 104-91 win over Utah but he failed to make a three-pointer for the fourth straight game. He has shot just 2 for 13 from long distance since returning.
“That’s how it is sometimes. I’m still thinking about my shot and that’s the worst thing I can do,” Harrington said.
As long as I keep doing that, I’m not going to be consistent. More opportunities I get to shoot, I’ve got to let it rip. Once I get one or two going, I’ll feel good about myself.”
Despite his difficulty finding his stroke from beyond the three-point line, Harrington was still able to contribute in other ways as he recorded season-highs with four rebounds and three assists.
“Al knows the game,” said Drew Gooden, the recipient of two of Harrington’s assists. “He’s out there on one leg, still dunking the basketball and making plays like that and that’s impressive to me.”
Gooden also was impressed by Harrington’s longevity. Harrington is among five players remaining from the 1998 draft class – along with Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Rashard Lewis and Nazr Mohammed – after former Wizard Antawn Jamison quietly got waived by the Atlanta Hawks last month.
When Harrington started his career with the Indiana Pacers, he was the hot shot teenager straight out of high school on a veteran-laden team. Now, he is the old sage asked to pass along wisdom to a team making its first push to the playoffs since 2008. The value of experience isn’t lost on Harrington.
“They add a calming factor, knowing that you got guys in the locker room that you can look up to and not only just to talk to, but on the court, too,” Harrington said of experienced players. “One thing I love about these guys, they respect the things I’ve done in the past, so they trust me with the basketball and to make plays and stuff like that. Just got to continue to do the right things.”
Harrington has questioned the mental toughness of his teammates in the past but he is starting to see a change with the Wizards winning seven of their past eight games. “This team is growing,” Harrington said. “We’re going in the right direction. These guys beat us in Utah, so we had that in the back of our mind, knowing that we let one get away, so we was really focused on coming in here…and getting a win.”