For the first time in nearly a week, Washington Wizards point guard John Wall dribbled a basketball with his left hand Tuesday, a minor but crucial step in his recovery. Wall will have the five non-displaced fractures in his left wrist and hand re-evaluated before Wednesday’s Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Coach Randy Wittman said, and a decision will then be made whether the all-star will return for the game against the Hawks in Atlanta.
Wall, who sustained his injury in Game 1 on May 3, is officially listed as questionable. “When they check him again,” Wittman said, “I’m sure they’re either going to say ‘No, we need more time’ or ‘It’s up to you’ from a pain standpoint.”
Wall did some light shooting with his right hand for the final portion of the Wizards’ walkthrough at Verizon Center open to the media Tuesday. He held his lightly bandaged left hand off to the side. The Wizards then closed the practice court while several players, including Wall, and assistant coaches remained. About 30 minutes later, Wall emerged breathing heavily and sweating.
“The swelling is minimal now,” Wittman said. “It’s still a little but nothing where it was. Like we talked about, the doctors wanted to reassess things after that. What he’s doing now is fine according to them, to get a little feel for it so see how it feels, number one, again, from a pain standpoint.”
The Wizards spent over an hour Tuesday dissecting film from Monday’s Game 4 loss, and their initial assessment was confirmed: They surrendered 65 points in the first half because the Hawks, from their guards to their big men, attacked the basket and didn’t encounter much resistance. That, the Wizards concluded, was the chief reason they fell a wide-open Paul Pierce three-pointer short of forcing overtime. Instead, Atlanta knotted the series at two games apiece.
An enthusiastic Wall watched from the bench, testing fashion boundaries in an outfit that made the social media rounds. A healthy Wall certainly would have been a factor in fending off Atlanta’s dribble penetration and limiting Washington’s 17 turnovers, in addition to supplementing Bradley Beal and Pierce’s 56 combined points. Monday night may have been his final game playing cheerleader.
If he does return before the fractures heal, which would take approximately four to six weeks, Wall would probably play with a splint. The decision will ultimately come down to whether he can withstand the pain and is willing to risk having the fractures become displaced, which would require a longer recovery period and possibly surgery.
The Wizards have gone 1-2 in Wall’s absence, including the 106-101 Game 4 loss Monday night, which Washington trailed for nearly its entirety before having a final shot to force overtime. The result instilled even more confidence in a team that had beaten the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed without their premier performer 48 hours earlier.
“We won one game without John, we can do it again,” Beal said.
The Wizards are undoubtedly a significantly better team with Wall in uniform. Washington is 5-0 with him in the playoffs. He was leading the NBA with 12.6 assists per game, and the Wizards posted a net rating of plus-15.6 when he was on the floor in the five contests. Without him, the rating plummets to a minus-0.8. He pushes the pace unlike any other player remaining in the playoffs and possesses an uncanny ability to create shots for teammates. He maximizes Marcin Gortat’s pick-and-roll skills and is the head of a defense that ranked fifth in the NBA in defensive rating. The Wizards have proven they can win without him, but may need him, fractured bones and all, to survive and advance.
“Obviously until he is ready to play we really don’t know, but we’ve seen him out there dribbling a little bit, handling the ball, taking jump shots,” guard Garrett Temple said. “That’s always a good sign. That actually gives us more motivation to go out there and get a win and play harder just in case he doesn’t play. We know he’s going to be back soon but if he’s not able to play, just keep fighting, try to get another win and prolong that process for him.”