By Michael Lee
Thursday, December 16, 2010; D05
For a player who moves on the court as if he is being timed, John Wall is doing the best he can to be patient with his nagging injuries. He wants to play, but not at half-speed - and certainly not if his presence does more harm than good for his team.
And Wall is having a difficult time grappling with why he can't play, since nothing - not even a broken left thumb his junior year in high school - ever forced him to miss much time from basketball.
Coming to the Washington Wizards as the No. 1 overall pick, Wall knew his team could struggle in his first season. But the usually durable 20-year-old was not prepared to be sidelined so much, so early, with health problems.
His current bout with right knee tendinitis will likely force the Wizards to sit Wall for the second game in a row - and ninth time overall in just 24 games - when they attempt to snap a five-game losing streak and end their season-long road drought against the New Jersey Nets on Thursday at Prudential Center.
"This might be the most frustrating part, so far, about me playing basketball - I've never had any injuries," said Wall, who has already dealt with a sprained left foot suffered while defending Chicago's Derrick Rose. The injury initially cost him four games; a few weeks later, he sat a fifth game when it recurred.
He also missed two games with a bruised left knee that occurred when Andres Nocioni knocked him to the ground against Philadelphia. His right knee tendinitis caused him trouble during summer league, and Coach Flip Saunders suggested it was an area where Wall wasn't "ever going be pain free."
"I've sprained my ankle before, but the main injury that really set me back was spraining my foot," Wall said. "That's the main thing that really aggravated me, because I can't sit on the sideline and watch. I want to be in plays. And then, at the same time, I'm doing a great job of rehabbing, but I come back and it still hurts in some areas. Sometimes, they say it's better to break it than sprain it. And sometimes I wish I probably did do that."
The Wizards (6-17) are relieved Wall hasn't experienced any structural damage as a result of his injuries, but they have also decided to calm down the stop-and-go-and-stop-again nature of his rookie season, during which the team has often made decisions hours and sometimes minutes before games about whether Wall will play. Wall didn't participate in practice Wednesday and walked out of the arena with bags of ice on both knees while wearing a comfortable pair of flip flops.
Saunders said the team wants to give Wall the appropriate amount of rest so he doesn't rush himself back or disrupt the preparation of the rest of the team, which has to shift to different roles based on Wall's availability. Saunders said Wall is "frustrated" but attempted to help him with humor.
"I was kind of kidding him. I told him, 'In the first 20 games, you missed more games than John Stockton missed in 20 years,' " Saunders said about the Hall of Fame point guard who actually played in 82 games in all but two of his 19 seasons, missing a total of 20 games.
Wall said he had to learn to take his time and think more about long-term preservation than short-term gratification. "It's so frustrating. I never really missed games," said Wall, who missed one game while serving an NCAA suspension for accepting improper benefits in his lone season at Kentucky, "I know the NBA is on a whole other different level; I'm going to take nicks and bruises, but mostly over my career, I've been able to get up from them. These are bigger guys, but I think some things just happen for a reason."
When Wall broke his left thumb in high school, in a matchup against current Sacramento Kings guard Tyreke Evans, he simply had it taped up and played through the pain. Wall held up both thumbs next to each other to show how "nasty" it still looks three years later.
"That was the worst injury I had, until this sprained foot," Wall said. "I feel like a couple of games, I felt great. The L.A. game, I felt pretty good. In Toronto, I didn't feel too good. Some days it feels good, some days it doesn't. It's really a lose-lose situation. I think if I keep doing treatment, it can get better. At the same time, it moves around and you're still running on it a whole lot. I think I'm doing a great job of trying to get back, getting as much rest as I can."
Wizards note: Starting power forward Andray Blatche will also be sidelined for a second game with a sore left knee, and Blatche's backup, Yi Jianlian, is expected to miss two to four weeks after an MRI exam revealed that he suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in the first quarter of the Wizards' 103-89 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday.
Yi may have to wait until March 20 to get his first shot against his former team, with his sprained MCL putting his availability for the Wizards' Jan. 7 game against New Jersey in doubt. Lakers forward Ron Artest fell on the same knee Yi hyperextended on Nov. 13 in Chicago.
Yi was forced to miss the next nine games, but he came back to average 7.8 points and five rebounds in his next four games. When asked if he was disappointed about missing a game against the Nets, Yi replied, "Things happen."
Yi, who was acquired from New Jersey last summer, said he didn't exactly have the Nets marked down on his calendar. "For me, right now, I'm looking forward to every game. I'm trying to get healthy, get back soon on the court," Yi said.