“No,” Ariza said, lifting the mask from his face to make his argument. “I know it wasn’t me, because I was in the exact same spot where I laid down.”
Okafor laughed and walked away, still refusing to believe the yarn.
No matter how Okafor feels about the validity of Ariza’s ghost encounter, there is no denying that the Wizards have been haunted by an injury and illness bug in the past two weeks. A.J. Price went down with a sore groin and has missed the past nine games. Okafor missed two games with the flu. Bradley Beal has missed the past four games with a sprained left ankle. Ariza has missed the past three games with the flu. Martell Webster and Nene have missed the past two games, Webster with a strained abdomen, Nene with a sore right knee.
And before the Wizards lost, 103-80, on Wednesday to the Oklahoma City Thunder, seldom-used center Jason Collins came down with the flu, leaving the team with just eight healthy players against one of the league’s elite teams.
“It’s like back at school,” Okafor said. “The person you’re sitting next to gives it to the person they’re sitting next to and it kind of goes around.”
Nene, seated nearby interrupted, “Yeah, you started it.”
John Wall joked that he has packed extra hand sanitizer and medication in an effort to avoid getting sick. “I got all of that. I’m trying to stay as far away from people as possible,” Wall said. “It’s tough, you just wish nobody else gets it. But we going to keep fighting. One thing I know about this team, no matter how many is out, we going to fight.”
The Wizards (26-45) could’ve anticipated that a grueling stretch of six of seven games on the road would test them physically, but not leave them without roughly 40 percent of the lineup.
“It kind of messes with your chemistry a little bit, but as long as the guys that can play play hard and play together, we have a chance to win,” said Garrett Temple, who has started the past 11 games as Beal deals with his ankle injury.
Beal and Webster are both unlikely to be ready when the Wizards take on the Magic for the fourth and final time on Friday in Orlando. Coach Randy Wittman estimated that Beal, the rookie shooting guard who starred at Florida, is still probably a week away from testing the ankle he originally hurt on March 3 and aggravated last week in Phoenix.
Webster said his injury — which he has been playing with for nearly a month — could keep him out of action for another two weeks. Webster tried several treatments, including acupuncture, to combat his ailment, but eventually had to stop in the third quarter of the Wizards’ loss last Saturday to Golden State.
After two injury plagued seasons in Minnesota, Webster had discovered an uninterrupted run of good health in his first season in Washington. Through the first 69 games, Webster hadn’t missed any because of illness or injury.
“I wanted to keep playing, but after being pulled out of that game, and the next day, completely listening to what my body was saying, I need to rest it. Playing on it is only going to make it worse,” Webster said. “At the latest, I’m looking at the Boston game [on April 7]. It’s uncomfortable doing anything — running, jumping as well. But hey, it’s part of the game.”
The final stretch of the season is starting to resemble the beginning, when the Wizards were without Wall and Nene, and Wittman’s roster was constantly changing based on availability. Wall helped make up for the absences of five players against Memphis as he scored a career-high 47 points and carried his team to a 107-94 victory. He had a poor shooting night against the Thunder, but the Wizards managed to stay competitive through the first half.
“I hope troops are coming back,” Wittman said after the loss to the Thunder. “I told them, ‘Hang in there guys. Troops are coming back.’ ”
Okafor had the same skepticism for Wittman’s optimism as he did for Ariza’s ghost stories. “We’ll see. We’ll see who’s there when it’s tip-off,” Okafor said with a grin. “It’s not difficult. If you’re a ballplayer, you’re used to playing in a lot of different circumstances, so you just have to figure out a way.”