John Wall to debut for Wizards on Thursday - with or without Gilbert Arenas

Guard John Wall (left) will make his NBA debut Thursday when the Wizards visit Orlando. Gilbert Arenas, though, might not play because of a lingering ankle injury.
Guard John Wall (left) will make his NBA debut Thursday when the Wizards visit Orlando. Gilbert Arenas, though, might not play because of a lingering ankle injury. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 26, 2010; 11:27 PM

If Washington Wizards guard John Wall is supposed to have some nerves before his highly anticipated NBA debut, he has kept them well-hidden, even as it appears increasingly uncertain whether Gilbert Arenas will join him in Thursday's season opener at Orlando.

Wall engaged in a post-practice slam dunk contest Monday, converting windmill left-handed jams while rolling on the ground with laughter and kicking his feet after Nick Young tossed the ball off the backboard, whirled it between his legs and stormed off the court.

After practice ended Tuesday, Coach Flip Saunders brought the team together for a huddle, and Wall offered some fashion advice by playfully adjusting Saunders's collar, lifting the flaps upward. So when Saunders was asked if his 20-year-old point guard had any jitters, he replied, "Haven't seen any of that at this point."

Wall has been loose, but his three-time all-star back court mate remains in doubt after he missed his third consecutive practice because of a sore right ankle. Saunders said the team will "have to wait and see what happens in the next 48 hours" to determine Arenas's availability against the Magic.

The Wizards will practice Wednesday in Orlando, while the Verizon Center hosts the Washington International Horse Show. They've prepared for the Magic as if they will not have Arenas, with Wall and Kirk Hinrich sharing the backcourt.

"It's going to be a big loss for us," Wall said when asked how the team would adjust if it doesn't have Arenas. "It'll be tough not to have him out there, but you've got to move on and keep playing. You know you got other talented players on the team that can take up some scoring slack that we're going to be missing."

Al Thornton was the favorite to open the season at small forward, with Josh Howard at least a few weeks away from returning from knee surgery. Saunders instead went with a three point-guard lineup with Wall, Arenas and Hinrich the first three preseason games, and Thornton missed the two games because of a sprained left ankle. Thornton averaged just seven points in five preseason games, but Saunders said he performed well in practice the past week.

Thornton said he would be ready whether or not Arenas is available.

"I have a chance to step up," he said. "But I mean, of course, we want Gil out there. He's an all-star type player, but I think we're going to just have to go out there and work as a team."

Saunders said Monday the team could still be effective without Arenas, but added the Wizards would prefer to have him as he attempts to return from a 50-game suspension for bringing guns into the locker room.

"We need him; there's no question," Saunders said. "You take a guy that last year, before he went out, he was a 22-point scorer and seven and a half assists, so you'd like to put that in your lineup. What it does is, it puts more pressure on your main guards, John and Kirk. Those guys may have to play more minutes than maybe what you'd like them to until you get him back, whenever that is."

Saunders said he is eager to see how Wall performs Thursday.

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