“I don’t really watch basketball like that, honestly,” he said after the long pause. “That’s just the team we’re about to play. I always keep up with John, but that doesn’t mean I’m watching him every night. … I’m sure he doesn’t do that with me. So …”
Beal won’t have to resort to NBA League Pass to get a good look at Wall this week. As the Wizards move forward with their season restart after a coronavirus outbreak and attempt to build on the few good aspects of Sunday’s loss in San Antonio, Tuesday’s game presents a wrinkle. It will be the first time the Wizards ever play against Wall, their point guard for 10 years.
The game doubles as point guard Russell Westbrook’s first return to Houston since the Rockets (6-9) and Wizards (3-9) swapped all-star point guards in a blockbuster trade in December.
As for what he expects from Wall, Beal didn’t quite know what to say, other than to remind reporters that there will be other players on the court as well.
“I’m sure we’re going to expect an energetic John Wall. I think we all know that,” Beal said. “I mean, I don’t — I don’t really know what you want me to say. I’ve never played against John before, so this is all new to me. But we’re not just playing John; we’re playing the Rockets. We do have that in the back of our mind, that he’s going to be in attack mode and aggressive. . . . He’s not the only guy we’ve got to worry about.”
Frankly, the state of Washington’s roster means the team will probably be more worried about its own players than any opponents for the time being.
The team still has six players ineligible because of the league’s coronavirus protocols and will play its second game of a three-game road trip Tuesday. The depleted squad will play five games in eight days, with Coach Scott Brooks probably managing the minutes of a couple of players — including Westbrook, who is working his way back from a left quadriceps injury, and starting center Robin Lopez.
Wall agreed that the meeting won’t have the same verve as it might have had during a normal season in front of fans, or even if the location were reversed. He is expected to play Tuesday after missing five games with left knee soreness, and he admitted he will have some emotions while going against the franchise that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2010.
“I think I’ve got a little bit of emotions,” Wall said during a videoconference Saturday. “ … It’s not too many emotions because I’m not going back to D.C. I think that’s when it will be the most emotions, when I have the opportunity to walk back into Capital One Arena and see the city where I’ve been the last 10 years. But it’ll definitely be a sight to see those guys.”
Wall never got the chance to complete his comeback in Washington, to return to the court after nearly two years on the sideline as the Wizards were forced to evolve without him. The franchise changed general managers and overhauled its roster while Wall was injured, all while the point guard went through immense change himself.
While Wall was recovering, his mother died and his second son was born. The trade to Houston gave all parties involved a fresh start: Wall after 10 years with the Wizards, and Westbrook after a one-year experiment in Houston went sour. Wall’s return in a different uniform felt bittersweet for many fans of the franchise.
The 30-year-old is fitting in well despite a tumultuous season for the Rockets, who traded longtime franchise centerpiece James Harden this month. Wall is averaging 17.1 points and 5.5 assists in eight games, numbers that please his old coach with the Wizards.
“I’m proud of him, that he came back and the way he came back,” Brooks said Sunday. “He’s had a great career already … and a lot of guys could’ve just, you know, shut it down; it just wasn’t meant for him. This happened many times with other players in the league. But he’s fought and he’s fought and he’s fought and he’s come back, and [I’m] looking forward to seeing him, just like a lot of our guys and our coaches are as well. We’ve got a lot of respect for him. [He] did a lot for our community. He’s going to come back and play well for Houston.”