During a season that’s already included a half-dozen starting lineups over the first 17 games, the Washington Wizards are in line for yet another when they visit the New Orleans Hornets on Tuesday night after starting point guard A.J. Price broke his right hand in Saturday’s 101-97 loss to the Golden State Warriors.
Price, who will miss four to six weeks, had started 15 games in place of John Wall, who has missed 10 weeks with a stress injury in his left patella. There’s no indication Wall is anywhere near close to coming back, either, considering the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft has not been able to take jump shots.
Jordan Crawford appears to be the leading candidate to replace Price, but he’s been much more scorer than distributor since joining the Wizards in February 2011. That leaves rookie Bradley Beal at starting shooting guard and the Wizards uncertain who, if anyone, will be available off the bench in the back court other than Shaun Livingston.
“It’s tough, but there are no excuses,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said after practice on Monday. “This is a non-excuse league. If you think like that, you’re not going to do the best job you can do, and that’s about all I can say. I mean is it the best-case scenario? No. But it is what it is, and I’ve got to make the most of it. I’ve got to try to put these guys that are now available in the right positions that best suit them and their talents.”
Injuries and ineffective play have compelled Wittman to alter his starting lineup regularly, and that lack of continuity, along with undefined roles, in part has contributed to the Wizards’ league-worst 2-15 record. Washington opened the season with 12 consecutive losses to set a franchise record, and since an improbable 105-101 upset of the NBA champion Miami Heat last Tuesday, the Wizards have dropped two in a row.
During those last two games, Martell Webster moved into the starting lineup at forward, becoming the 11th player on the Wizards to start a game this season. Webster replaced ailing forward Trevor Ariza, who is out indefinitely following a left calf strain sustained in the win against the Heat.
Ariza had started 13 of 15 games after joining the Wizards along with center Emeka Okafor in the deal that sent Rashard Lewis and a second-round pick to the Hornets in June.
“We’ve gotten the injury bug more early on than most teams would like to have,” Okafor said. “We’ve all been on teams and injured ourselves or [dealt with] teammates that have been injured, and we understand the dynamic of that. We would like to have everybody healthy, but that’s not the case right now, so you can’t go on thinking, ‘What if?’ ”
The Wizards did receive a bit of encouraging news on the injury front when Wittman indicated Trevor Booker practiced without contact Monday. Booker has missed the last eight games with a sore right knee. The injury occurred during the fourth quarter of a 96-89 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Nov. 19 when the energetic forward jumped with his right leg and immediately began to limp.
Booker later revealed he had been playing with soreness in his knee for close to two months. The injury, Booker suggested, perhaps developed as he tried to compensate for a left hamstring injury that flared during training camp.
Booker started the first seven games of the season, when the first unit stayed intact for its longest stretch. That group consisted of Booker, Okafor and Ariza in the front court with Price at point guard and Beal at shooting guard.
Wittman then experimented with starting lineups that have included Jan Vesely, Livingston, Kevin Seraphin and Chris Singleton. Washington’s most recent starting lineup comprised of Price, Beal, Okafor, Singleton and Webster, although that’s due to change as well.
“The only thing you can worry about as a player is what you can control,” Webster said when asked about the fluctuating starters. “Your play, your mentality, your body, your health, plain and simple, and that’s as much as I’m going to comment on that.”