A motivated Andray Blatche has a career-best two-game stretch
By Michael Lee,
Inside the giddy visitor’s locker room at Charlotte’s Time Warner Cable Arena on Sunday, the last remaining Washington Wizards players were getting dressed and wondering if they were going to get back to Washington in time to catch some of the after parties following rapper Lil Wayne’s concert at Verizon Center.
Moments before, Andray Blatche was singing a much different tune. He emerged from the shower, holding his towel, and belting out at the top of his lungs, the theme from the movie, “Dirty Dancing,” which has regained some popularity through the Black Eyed Peas.
“I’ve. Had. The time of my life,” Blatche sang, “and I never felt this way before . . .”
Blatche repeated the phrase over and over, oblivious to the fact that his voice was cracking and off-key. He was simply reveling in helping the Wizards claim their third road win of the season with a victory over the Charlotte Bobcats — and their second straight win overall — with yet another inspired performance.
He had 25 points and 17 rebounds in the Wizards’ 97-91 win over the Bobcats two days after a career night on Friday, when he matched his career high with 36 points and grabbed a career-high 19 rebounds — including a franchise record 16 on the offensive glass — in a 115-107 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. The games have coincided with Blatche being reinserted into the starting lineup after returning last week from a sprained right shoulder.
“The whole time I was out, it made me see, don’t take nothing for granted. So when I came back, I just came back with a lot of energy, and I’m just happy to be playing again,” said Blatche, who missed 11 games in March. “I’m trying to chip in and help us get the wins we should’ve been getting earlier.”
The Wizards (20-56) have a chance to win three games in a row for the first time since April 2008 as they host the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday at Verizon Center. They should have a decent chance if Blatche continues to play with the energy and aggression that he has shown the past two games. Blatche has been deliberate and assertive on drives to the basket, refusing to settle for long jumpers and pursuing the ball for his own misses or tipping in misses from others.
Previously, the most rebounds Blatche grabbed in consecutive games was 33, which happened February of last season, shortly after he was unleashed following the trades of Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood.
He grabbed 16 of the first 36 missed shots the Wizards had against Cleveland, and snatched five more offensive rebounds against the Bobcats, flexing and screaming after a huge tip-in that gave the Wizards a 96-88 lead with 1 minute 43 seconds remaining.
“He was big. He came in feeling like he was going to have a big rebounding game and he did,” John Wall said. “He was keeping balls alive for us, and giving us second chance opportunities. Since he really focused more, lost more weight, he was just a beast on the boards.”
In the first year of an extension that will be pay him an additional $28 million through 2014-15, Blatche will improve his scoring and rebounding averages (16.3 points, 8.3 rebounds) for the sixth consecutive season but he has had disappointments on and off the court that stunted the progress he appeared to make last season, when he averaged 22.1 points and 8.3 rebounds in the final 32 games.
His problems began when he broke a bone in his right foot last June and was unable to do much basketball-related activity. He gained weight, arrived in training camp out of shape, and developed problems with his left knee that affected his burst and his lift. With his shot getting blocked inside, Blatche was forced him to take jumpers, resulting in a 43.8 field goal percentage that is his worst since his second season.
Coach Flip Saunders said injuries have been the biggest obstacle for Blatche this season, adding that he hopes Blatche can work on improving this offseason instead of having to work on recovering from an injury.
“We talked to him. Next year, him coming in, it’s going to be important for him to come in in better shape, because I really believe, if he get his weight down to the 260s, he can become a very dominant-type forward in our league. Hopefully, he can see that,” Saunders said. “I think that he started behind the eight ball. In this league, if you get hurt early in the season, you’re going to be hurt the rest of the year, because it’s hard to come back because you’re going to be hurting. To his credit, he’s kept on pounding away. I give him credit, because it would’ve been easy for him, late in the year, to say, ‘I’m done.’ But he worked really hard to get back, did a lot of running. He wants to end very strong, so he can lead that into next year.”
With only six games left in the season, Blatche can’t make up for what he’s lost, but he said the Wizards would “try to get as [many] wins as we can before the season is over.”