As Wizards prep for Memphis, Miller and McGee are missing in action

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 28, 2009; D04

MINNEAPOLIS -- JaVale McGee and Mike Miller were both spectators at the Washington Wizards' nearly 90-minute practice Sunday afternoon at Minneapolis Community College.

McGee sat with his right leg wrapped in ice after complaining of soreness in his knee after suffering an injury in the morning shoot-around on Saturday, several hours before the Wizards lost, 101-89, to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Miller was able to shoot jumpers on the strained right calf that has sidelined him the past five weeks, but was sore because the injury forced him to miss playing against two of his former teams, Minnesota and the Memphis Grizzlies, whom the Wizards play Monday night.

He said the loss to Minnesota, which traded him to Washington last June, stung.

"Brutal. You want to win those games. I don't care what anybody says, people always comment that it's a regular game. It's not," said Miller, who has missed the past 16 games after injuring himself in San Antonio on Nov. 21. "When you play against the team that traded you, your goal is to win the game. I think people get caught up in wanting to have big numbers but how you hurt the organization that traded you is by beating them. Ultimately, they don't care about what you do as long as they win."

Miller has been traded the past two summers, with Memphis ending an almost six-year relationship when it dealt him to the Timberwolves in a draft-day trade in June 2008. "With Memphis, I had a good run, so it was probably time," said Miller, who won the sixth man of the year award and reached the playoffs three times with the Grizzlies. "Here [in Minnesota], I really didn't get an opportunity. As a basketball player, it hurts when you get traded. Obviously, your services weren't as good as what they thought. I felt I could bring more than what happened."

The Wizards (10-18) targeted having Miller back by Friday, but last week, with games against his former teams, Miller was hopeful he could return sooner. On Sunday, Miller said he may have to be more cautious than he originally expected. Before hurting his calf, Miller had been playing despite a sprained left shoulder. He feels no need to receive a toughness medal for playing though his latest setback.

"We've got to make sure it's 100 percent. It's a lot different than the shoulder. With the shoulder [the team trainers and doctors] told me I could go out there and although it was 50 percent, I wasn't going to hurt it anymore. With this one, if I tear it completely, I'm done for the year," said Miller, who averaged 9.8 points and 6.1 rebounds in nine games this season. "So I'll have to sacrifice these two games or maybe three or four more to play 50 games. It's a lot better than getting two or three [games] in and tearing it. I got to look at it that way and understand how hard it is to play at this level."

McGee said he should be available against the Grizzlies, but that doesn't mean that he will play. McGee, the 7-foot, second-year center, has only appeared in one of the past seven games, playing 19 minutes in a 26-point loss to Phoenix. Coach Flip Saunders said McGee's limited playing time hasn't been the result of anything he has or hasn't done in games or practice. Saunders said he has simply had to rely more on veterans Andray Blatche and Fabricio Oberto to spell center Brendan Haywood.

"We talked, [Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld] and I, about trying to get into a flow with the team, how we need to shorten our rotation and not play as many guys," Saunders said, adding that Oberto's ability as the Wizards' best post defender has swallowed the minutes that would've gone to McGee. "We'll play another five games and reevaluate that. It's not really him. We just wanted to have more consistency with what we're trying to do on the floor. He's practicing well, but we haven't had a lot of practice time lately."

After an encouraging summer in which he received an invitation to USA Basketball's minicamp in Las Vegas, McGee said he was expecting to "at least get significant minutes, but different coaches have different ways. I just come in early and try to stay in shape and get a workout, so that if my name was called, I'll be ready."

McGee is averaging just 2.5 points, 1.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 8.7 minutes in 18 games, which is worse than his rookie season, when he averaged 6.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1 block in 15.2 minutes and started 14 games with Haywood missing all but six games. "It's been real tough, but I just been trying to deal with it the best I can," McGee said. "I would like more playing time, but as long as we win, I'm not complaining about it. I'm just trying to be a team player and keep cheering on my team."

In recent games, McGee has been the first player off the bench to wave a towel or cheer his teammates after they make a big play. When asked what most difficult between sitting and losing, McGee said, "The losing. It's starting to feel like last year. I don't want to come into the NBA as a loser. We're just trying push through it. So we can come out and still make it to the playoffs."

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