After a two-week hiatus, Bradley Beal was on the Washington Wizards’ practice court Wednesday at Verizon Center, albeit in a limited capacity as he tries to recover from another stress injury in his right fibula.
When Beal heard from doctors this week that he was cleared to increase his basketball-related activities after an MRI exam showed improvement, the 20-year-old shooting guard joked that he was “jumping up and down” — but it probably wasn’t too high or for too long given the cautious approach Beal plans to take with his return.
“It’s my body, and I have to protect it,” Beal said. “Either I want to play 10-plus years or I want to play two.”
Beal, who gave no timetable for his return, was relieved that his latest leg injury — which is in a different part of the leg from the ailment that led to a premature end to his rookie season — was caught early because he spoke up at the first sign of discomfort. In April, Beal said he stubbornly played through the pain in his lower leg, and by the time he had it checked out, “I had a crack in my bone.”
Seeing the image of his stress fracture on an MRI eight months ago gave Beal some pause, especially after University of Louisville guard Kevin Ware’s right leg snapped during the Midwest Region final of the NCAA tournament when he played on an undetected stress fracture.
“I was on the verge of that,” Beal said of Ware’s gruesome compound fracture. “That’s what’s kind of scary. The fact that I was still playing. I was in so much pain and . . . my leg could’ve ended up looking like Kev’s leg. It happened again this year, and it wasn’t an actual fracture, so that was a big plus. To be able to catch it early and prevent it from happening, we’re trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Beal was sidelined for nearly four months and missed participating in Team USA mini-camp as he let his leg heal. In his second season, Beal led the Wizards in scoring (20.6 points) and the NBA in both minutes (40.2) and distance traveled (2.9 miles per game) before he was shut down with an injury that was detected before it reached the "scary" stage.
“It’s frustrating because in less than 12 months it came back again, but at the same time, there is always hope,” he said. “I hate being hurt, but at the same time, it could be a lot worse. I’m always staying positive and hoping for the best and I’ll be fine.”
The Wizards (9-11) have gone 4-3 without Beal, who has been watching games in suits on the bench.
He missed 26 games, including the final eight, last season because of various injuries.
“It’s been difficult for me,” Beal said. "The fact that I wish I was out there with them and seeing how much fun they’re having and how they’re competing their butts off every game. I definitely miss that. It’s painful to watch, being out and injured and knowing you can’t do anything about it. I’m coaching them as best as I can, and I’ll continue to wear my suits and give a little encouragement."
Beal participated in some drills Wednesday but was only allowed to move around in half-court sets and non-contact five-on-none drills.
Coach Randy Wittman said Beal has been cleared “to do what he can,” but the team’s medical staff and trainers kept him from running in full-court scrimmages.
“He looked great out there. You could tell he was a step slow, but that’s all with training the muscle memory again,” said Martell Webster, who also returned to practice after spraining his left ankle in the Wizards’ 109-105 overtime loss to Milwaukee. “He was aggressive. He was quick at times out there. I know he feels good about how he demonstrated himself in practice and I’m sure with a little more repetition, and I think he’ll be ready to go.”
Beal said he will have to see how his leg progresses “day by day. As long as I continue to feel good, when the doc presses on it and there is no feeling at all, that’s when he’ll give me a go. . . . I’m listening to my trainers because they know what’s best, although it’s my body. I have a little say-so if I’m feeling good or not feeling good, but I think we’re all in unison.”
Wittman expects to have Webster in uniform on Friday in Atlanta, where the Wizards will look to snap a two-game losing streak. Nene didn’t practice Wednesday as he continues to battle soreness in his right Achilles’ tendon. Wittman wasn’t optimistic he would have Beal or Nene for games this weekend against the Hawks and Los Angeles Clippers.
“But we’ve also seen it where he’s all of a sudden felt pretty good and said, ‘I’m playing.’ I don’t want to tell you, ‘No,’ ” Wittman said of Nene. As for Beal, “we want to also be slow in the process of making sure we’re doing it the right way, obviously, based on what has happened in the past.”
Beal said he will have to adhere to a rehabilitation program that will focus on corrective exercises and preventative measures. His movements and how his body reacts to practices and games will be closely monitored.
“It’s a daily thing, and I’m going to continue to do it, even if I’m 110 percent. I have to look forward into my career, and if that’s what I have to do, I got to suck it up and I have to do it. I definitely won’t stop,” Beal said. “With an injury like this that can possibly end your career almost, you’d have to be cautious. Not trying to just come back so fast. We still have 60-plus games left. We have a lot of time. I’m not really pressed to be able to come back, although I want to. It’s not like I don’t want to, but it’s just me taking care of my body and making smart decisions.”