And yet, three days after the scare, McRae played 25 minutes Monday to help the Wizards snap a three-game losing streak.
“I’m not missing any more games,” McRae said, rolling up his socks before grabbing a team-best eight rebounds during the Wizards’ 106-100 win over the Detroit Pistons at Capital One Arena.
The Wizards (14-28), one of the NBA’s most injured teams this season, have navigated almost nightly changes to their rotation because of injuries and rehabilitations, and someone playing hurt has been a rarity. The team has taken a cautious approach when dealing with injuries, to the extent that even returning from common basketball injuries require four to six weeks or longer.
Rookie Rui Hachimura took a kick to the groin, underwent an unspecified minor procedure and has missed more than a month. Second-year center Moritz Wagner no longer wears a walking boot to protect his left ankle but hasn’t played since Dec. 10. Rookie Garrison Mathews, who is on a two-way contract splitting his time between the Wizards and their G League affiliate, has been on the sideline since spraining his right ankle Jan. 6. In each case, no set timeline for their return has been provided.
The Wizards, with point guard John Wall missing every game so far this year, rank second behind the Golden State Warriors as the most injured team in the NBA, according to the website ManGamesLost.com. McRae, 28, didn’t want to add to that total.
“I think [playing is] important to everybody. Especially [for me because] I missed a lot of games and I’m not one of those guys who miss games,” McRae said. “If I can play, I want to. A lot of guys in here, their injuries may not look like it, but a lot of guys are banged up all the time and they fight through it. Treatments on days off. They’re grinding. … So everybody’s trying to do what they can to play, and we’re working as hard as we can.”
McRae already missed 15 games after fracturing the tip of his right ring finger in the season opener. So his blank expression in the locker room after stepping on the foot of Toronto Raptors guard Terence Davis on Friday night wasn’t from the pain in his ankle.
“Just more annoyed. You fight to get healthy, then you step on somebody’s foot,” McRae recalled. “Going for a loose ball, roll your ankle. You can’t finish the game. That’s the annoying part.”
The team had a day off following the Toronto game, and McRae’s ankle did not get worse. By Sunday afternoon, he joined his teammates on the practice court and the ankle felt better.
The morning of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day game against Detroit, McRae received a text message from a close friend, advising him to play only if he was 100 percent. For someone in McRae’s situation — he will be a free agent this summer — being careful has its place. But McRae had already made up his mind.
“I’m trying to hoop, contract year or not. That don’t matter,” McRae said. “We’ll handle that in the offseason. Obviously, the training staff is doing their best to keep guys on the floor, and if it’s something where they feel like I don’t need to play, then I won’t. But if I can manage it and fight through it — I’ll handle everything else when it happens.”
Following Monday’s game, Coach Scott Brooks admitted he didn’t think McRae would be ready for the 2 p.m. tip-off.
“The ankle in Toronto, I mean, it looked really bad,” Brooks said. “I don’t know how he’s not sitting out a week or so. Sometimes they look bad and you recover right away, and he did.”
After the game, Brooks said: “Waking up, I didn’t know he would play. [But McRae] woke up and felt great. Sometimes it’s like that. We need him."
The Wizards had to get creative in closing the game Monday with a four-guard lineup, which included McRae. Several players remain on minutes restrictions, and backup center Anzejs Pasecniks (ankle) also joined the injury list.
The Wizards are not close to being whole and will probably have to wait until next season when Wall returns from a ruptured left Achilles’ tendon to be at full strength. But McRae’s quick return from what appeared to be a more serious injury was a small win for both the player and team.
“It’s like you’re fighting for yourself and your teammates, your family,” McRae said about playing while banged up. “So it’s not a hard choice.”