NEW YORK — The Washington Wizards hadn’t won a game in two weeks and hadn’t won at Madison Square Garden in more than seven years, so the celebration triggered by their road win over the New York Knicks on Monday night was bound to be a little off. But it also may have been costly, with rookie Glen Rice Jr. aggravating his sore right wrist among his jubilant teammates. Rice visited a doctor while his teammates practiced on Tuesday.
Bradley Beal, who hit the game-winning shot for the Wizards in his first game back after dealing with a stress injury in his right fibula, was given the day off, only as a precaution after slightly going over his minutes limit the night before.
“Taking it easy,” Coach Randy Wittman said of Beal, “until we see where he’s at after a little while.”
Tuesday’s practice still had a lively feel with the return of Nene, who has been sidelined since developing tendinitis in his troublesome right Achilles’ in the second half of the Wizards’ overtime loss on Dec. 6 against Milwaukee. After practice, Nene got in some extra three-on-three full-court action with teammates Eric Maynor and Otto Porter Jr., Chris Singleton, Garrett Temple and Jan Vesely, signaling that the Brazilian big man could be closer to his return, possibly on Wednesday when the Wizards take on the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center.
“I don’t want to make public something and have Brooklyn wait for me. Let me surprise them a little bit, if I play,” Nene said, flashing a grin. “That is a slow process. We talk about my Achilles’. I been doing everything I could to feel better to progress and I got progress and feel much, much better. I reduce the pain and I’m ready to go.”
Wittman didn’t want to make a decision on Nene until the team goes through Wednesday’s shootaround, but if he is available, the Wizards could potentially have their desired starting lineup of Nene, Beal, John Wall, Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat for the first time since Nov. 16. The unit has only started together five times this season, going 2-3, and hasn’t shared the floor since Ariza strained his right hamstring in the first half of a loss in San Antonio on Nov. 13.
When the Wizards won seven of nine games before a recent four-game slide, they didn’t have Ariza for the first four and missed Beal for the next five, forcing Webster to start in place of both players. Webster moved back to his role as sixth man for the first time in 14 games and responded with season highs of 30 points and six three-pointers against the Knicks.
“Doesn’t matter where I play, starting or coming off the bench, I'm comfortable regardless,” said Webster , who gathered his teammates at center court after the Knicks win to remind them of the adversity that they had overcome to finally claim a close victory.
Beal’s return after missing the previous nine games gave the Wizards their first victory in a game decided by three points or less this season. And when Nene comes back, the Wizards will have another playmaker on offense to relieve Wall from the responsibility of creating for all of his teammates.
“That’s a big plus for us. It just lightens the load for everybody. With Brad out, with Nene out, trust me, teams were like: ‘John Wall’s got to make a play here. Let’s get it out of John Wall’s hands,’ ” Wittman said. “That makes it tough on a guy and so Brad coming back and Nene, now you have options for who to play through, teams can’t just sit on somebody and say, ‘We know this is what they have to do.’ ”
With Beal back in the fold, Wittman also went back to his three-man wing rotation with Beal, Ariza and Webster after experimenting the past few games with Singleton and rookies Rice and Porter.
“Any given night, anybody can go for 30 in those spots. [Webster] had it going. Brad had it going, and I had a chance to watch a little bit,” said Ariza, who scored 10 points and defended the Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony on his last-second shot. “It’s going to be fun all year, because I don’t think it’s a matter of who’s playing, it’s a matter of if we’re winning or not. I think that’s what special about our wing players.”
Despite his performance in New York, Beal is still recovering from a serious injury, which means that he won’t initially have the same workload as before. He played 30 minutes against the Knicks, which was 10 less than his average in the first 13 games but still a minute or two over his current recommended allotment.
“I was hoping he would take me out and I’m glad he didn’t,” Beal said. “But that’s probably got to change, so I probably won’t play that much against Brooklyn. For the next couple games, maybe more than a couple. It’s definitely something you have to take serious and I definitely have to be more cautious.”
Nene has been prudent with his return, but he was relieved to see the Wizards claim their first victory in seven tries without him this season on Monday in New York. The team is still just 8-34 overall in his absence.
“It was an amazing game, bro,” Nene said. “The way we play, the way we keep the focus, because we had a lot of momentum against us, we could explode. But we remain composed and made a good decision at the end of the game. It was great.”