Andray Blatche had waited so long to be back on the court, back with his teammates, that he couldn’t leave the floor on Thursday immediately after the Washington Wizards concluded practice. He stayed around to play two-on-two basketball with rookies Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Shelvin Mack, eagerly trying to make up for more than an entire month of lost time.
Blatche backed down Vesely, spun around him and rose up for a left-handed dunk. He missed, throwing the ball off the back of the rim but showed plenty of explosiveness and elevation off of the injured left calf that has kept him sidelined since Jan. 28. Blatche is expected to make his return against Cleveland on Saturday at Verizon Center.
“I get back to balling. Just balling, hooping and having fun,” Blatche said. “Being without basketball is especially tough. It’s something I grew up with, so I’m just excited about this whole weekend that’s coming up for me. It’s a chance for me to go back out and do something I love to do.”
Coach Randy Wittman said he plans to ease Blatche back and use him in short stints, since the adrenaline rush of the return won’t make up for the lack of conditioning that comes from him missing the past 15 games.
The Wizards have been only slightly better with Blatche in the lineup (4-13) than without him this season (3-15) but will need another offensive option with Nick Young and Rashard Lewis both out against the Cavaliers with knee injuries. Blatche is having an admittedly down season, as he has been benched twice, is shooting a career-low 38 percent and averaging just 10.3 points — his worst scoring average in three seasons.
Barring a miraculous finish, he will fail to improve upon his statistics from the previous season for the first time in his seven-year career. But Blatche said the calf injury — which occurred on a “freak play” in which he attempted to take a charge on Charlotte’s Boris Diaw — forced him to rest and get fully healthy, something he hasn’t been all season because of a nagging right shoulder injury that he suffered nearly a year ago.
“Being without basketball is never good news,” Blatche said, but “it helped a lot, my shoulder. I have no problem out of it at all. Even though I lost something, I gained something back. My shoulder and my calf is good. It helped me get my body back right, and I can come out Saturday and be back to being the person that I am.”
Blatche said he wants to get back to being “Seven-Day ’Dray” — the player he was during the two-month period that helped him earn a three-year, $28 million extension before last season. That contract has come back to haunt the Wizards, who have actively tried to trade the 6-foot-11 Blatche but found no takers.
The Wizards have just six more games before the March 15 trade deadline, but Blatche said he wouldn’t let the speculation affect how he approaches the next two weeks — or the rest of the season. “That’s the life of the NBA. You’ve got to take the punches, whatever they are. It’s a business.”
Blatche was immobile after suffering the injury, but he has been working diligently the past two weeks, doing work in the pool and weight room, and even working out in preparation for a comeback with former teammate Awvee Storey at the practice facility.
Home fans have unmercifully booed Blatche this season, and he expressed some frustration over his treatment. Before a recent game, Blatche even pondered how his image would be used to incite fans to jeer if he ever leaves.
Blatche said he is anxious to return and make amends for his poor season. “I can’t wait to get back on the court. It’s something that’s a part of me. Even with all the bad things going on, I don’t care about it, I just want to go back to playing.”