During the offseason , John Wall starred in an online miniseries centered on his workouts in Miami. A videographer documented Wall — his hair grown out into an Afro, his confidence at an all-time high — dominating fellow NBA players in pickup games and dazzling in solo drills.
The series was titled “Summer of Separation.” But 36 games into this winter of the Washington Wizards’ suffering, Wall has been unable to distance himself from the NBA’s elite. And soon he may have a medical explanation as to why.
Wall is scheduled to see a foot specialist Saturday as he continues to manage left heel soreness, according to a person familiar with the player’s plans. Wall missed the Wizards’ 101-92 loss to the 10-win Chicago Bulls on Friday night at Capital One Arena, sitting for the second time because of bone spurs in the heel.
“If you have a sore heel and you’re a high-level, elite athlete, it’s going to bother you,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “And he’s been able to manage it over the years, and now it definitely comes and goes. He has good days and bad days like a lot of guys go through. We all know his toughness and his pain threshold.”
Although the injury has lingered for years, Wall previously revealed he has experienced more discomfort than usual this season. Before a Dec. 8 game in Cleveland, Wall spent time on the trainer’s table. An attempt to manage the pain proved futile that night. Wall endured perhaps the worst game of his nine-year career: 26 minutes, 0-for-5 shooting, six assists, just one point.
Following that 116-101 loss, Wall admitted, “I probably shouldn’t have played.”
Wall operated at just a fraction of his usual speed and power against the Cavaliers, and he could not stay in front of rookie guard Collin Sexton. Although Wall has missed two other games (Dec. 5 because of the birth of his son and last Saturday with an illness), the bone spurs might explain some of his more disconcerting performances.
On Dec. 18 in Atlanta, Wall rarely attacked, taking 11 of his 18 shots from beyond the arc. Five days later at Indiana, he again stayed primarily on the perimeter, shooting four of his seven attempts from three. Last year, just before Wall underwent knee surgery, he shared that if he’s shooting too many threes, it’s a telling sign that he’s not at 100 percent.
“I’ve been here three years, and it’s been off and on, but we’ve all been able to manage it,” Brooks said. “Two times in a row with me as a coach he’s been an all-star, and he’s been an all-star three years before that. He’s been able to do it, and sometimes there are times where he’s able to fight through and, like tonight, he can’t do it.
“It’s bothering him, and it’s time to see a specialist, and we’ll know more decisions soon.”
Although the Wizards have multiple problems — including ill-fitting offseason acquisitions, a lack of defense and inefficiency from the three-point arc — if this season needs a title, a good choice would be “Season of Specialists.”
Center Dwight Howard entered the season with a balky lower back, and after several visits to doctors on both coasts, he required spinal surgery at the end of November. At the time of the procedure, the team announced that Howard’s progress would be reevaluated in two to three months.
Forward Otto Porter Jr. missed three games earlier this month with right knee pain before undergoing an MRI exam that revealed a strained quadriceps. On Friday, Porter sat out his ninth straight game, his longest stretch on the injury list since his rookie season.
Forward Markieff Morris also was a scratch against the Bulls with upper back/neck stiffness following a stinger Dec. 16. Morris said the stiffness returned in Wednesday’s loss at Detroit, and after a rough night of sleep Thursday, he woke up Friday knowing that he could not go against the Bulls.
“We still got to win the game, man. It don’t matter how many guys we got out. We have enough in here to win. We got to win. And I got to do a better job of leading, make sure we do that,” Wizards guard Bradley Beal said after he scored a game-high 34 points. “I can’t sit here and wish everybody can play. . . . That’s why we have 15 guys on the team, for situations like this and for guys to step in and be ready to go.”
That long list of injuries has rearranged the Wizards’ rotation. The players acquired this month — Sam Dekker, Chasson Randle and Ron Baker — started the fourth quarter Friday with the Wizards trailing 74-72.
With so few other offensive threats on the floor, Beal played like a one-man show. In the final quarter, he took 10 shots and scored nine points. For the game, center Thomas Bryant was the only other Wizards player to score as many as 12 points. As a team, Washington shot 40.0 percent, missed 21 of 30 attempts from beyond the three-point arc and fell to 13-23. The loss was their third straight.
While the Wizards attempted to rally from a 10-point deficit, Wall spent a fourth-quarter timeout strategizing in the coaches’ huddle. Although Brooks would not conjecture whether the heel issue would force Wall to miss more games, the coach has experience with this scenario. Just last year, Wall missed 41 games, and during Brooks’s final season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, all five starters — including Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook — missed significant time.
Brooks was fired after that 2014-15 season in Oklahoma City. He was asked Friday whether he was experiencing deja vu.
“Oh, I hope not. That didn’t end too well,” he said, eliciting laughter. “I didn’t anticipate none of this happening. Nobody does. . . . But you can’t feel sorry for yourself, and you got to enjoy this moment of back-against-the-wall.
“I like that mentality, and you got to fight for everything you have, and now we have to. Otherwise it’s not going to be good. Our record is not good now, but we got games ahead of us.”