By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 12:27 AM
The day before his expected regular season debut at Verizon Center against the Philadelphia 76ers, John Wall emerged from the Washington Wizards' locker room with a protective walking boot covering his right foot. Wall sprained his right ankle during his spectacular breakout performance against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday but said the boot was precautionary and shouldn't force him to miss any action.
When told that Coach Flip Saunders said he planned on having the No. 1 overall pick available against Philadelphia, Wall said, "I feel the same way."
But the Wizards have some reason for concern, with right ankle injuries to its two best players expected to keep at least one of them out against the 76ers.
Gilbert Arenas participated in some drills and rebounded shots for teammates after practice on Monday. He had a follow-up MRI exam later in the afternoon on the strained tendon in his right ankle that has sidelined him through the first two games and much of the preseason.
Arenas will be listed as a game-time decision, but Saunders all but ruled out the possibility of having him available.
"I say it's very unlikely he's going to play," Saunders said about Arenas, who visited foot-and-ankle specialist Mark Myerson and received a shot in his troublesome ankle last Thursday. "He's done a few things, but not many. So I don't think he's going to play. You'll know 10 minutes before the game."
Wall offered a glimpse into his immense potential in a 99-95 loss in Atlanta, as he confidently stroked perimeter jumpers, dropped beautiful outlet passes to his teammates for fastbreak layups and ran so many circles around Hawks players that Atlanta Coach Larry Drew, a former Wizards assistant, said, "That is one fast human being."
Wall scored a game-high 28 points with nine assists and five rebounds, but he didn't escape Philips Arena unscathed.
He rolled his ankle late in the third quarter as he was fouled driving and kicking out to Yi Jianlian. He tried to run it out and returned to hit two free throws to complete a string of 12 consecutive points scored for the Wizards. But Wall said he felt it getting worse as he sat on the bench in the breaks between quarters.
"I knew it at that moment, that's why I ran to half court and tried to get away. When I got to the bench, I tightened my shoe up and just kept playing," said Wall, who still managed to score 10 points and hit his first two career three-pointers in the fourth period. "Afterwards, you could tell, it started swelling up bad. It's been swollen since the last game so just being in the walking boot will take the [pain] away, make it feel better."
The Wizards (0-2) will certainly need Wall if they hope to take away the pain of being one of the NBA's six remaining winless teams. They showed considerable improvement in Atlanta after their season-opening, 29-point loss in Orlando - the most lopsided loss for a No. 1 pick in his debut - where the Magic embarrassed them so badly that all-star center Dwight Howard entertained his teammates by doing pushups on the sideline while the game was going on.
The Wizards were tied with the Hawks with less than five minutes remaining but were unable to close as Atlanta finished them off with the help of all-stars Joe Johnson and Al Horford.
"We're pros so we're not much for moral losses or moral victories or whatever you want to call it. It still hurts the same," veteran guard Kirk Hinrich said. "Obviously, we took a step forward. It wasn't hard - there was only one way to go from the Orlando game, but we're still working. I think everybody's excited to just keep moving forward, and I think everybody's heads are in the right place, as far as wanting to improve and wanting to win games. We can't take a step backwards, and that's what we're focusing on."
Andray Blatche said that being at home for the first time should help the relatively inexperienced Wizards.
"It'll give us a lot of energy," he said. "Something we need, you know. We have a young team. It's going to take time for us to develop, but the one thing is to continue to get better. [Tuesday] is going to be a tough game for both teams. Both of us [are] in the same situation, but for us, it's different. We're home. You always have to protect your home. That's our mind-set."
The 76ers (0-3) have also failed to win this season, under new Coach Doug Collins, who stepped away from the booth as an analyst for TNT to return to the bench for the first time since his two-year stint with the Michael Jordan-led Wizards.
Arenas is the only player on the Wizards' 15-man roster who was in the NBA the last time Collins coached.
The game will likely be the first head-to-head matchup for Wall and No. 2 overall pick Evan Turner, who is used in a reserve role. While speaking with reporters in Philadelphia on Monday, Turner said he was "not really feeding into" a duel with Wall.
Wall expressed a similar sentiment.
"You can't be scared or try to go into a one-on-one matchup," said Wall, who leads the Wizards in scoring (21 points) and assists (9.0) through the first two games. "It's not like high school because if you do that, you can take your team out of the game right away so I just focus on the game plan that my team has, hopefully go out there and get the win."
Through his first two NBA games, Wall said he has seen few surprises.
"This is all I expected so far. Everything's been great - except for the losing part, but that comes with the NBA season. There's 82 games so you're not going to win every game . You got to get used to losing a couple. Hopefully, we get back on the winning track."