The signs of disappointment and dissatisfaction with an unexpectedly terrible start were evident on both ends of the court at the conclusion of the Washington Wizards’ practice on Friday.
On one end, the newly signed point guard listened intently as assistant coach Jerry Sichting offered instruction. On the other, the cornerstone big man sat with a bag of ice on his left knee — as opposed to his sore left foot — after participating in his first limited practice of the season.
Shaun Livingston is back for his second stint with the franchise that rejuvenated his once-promising career and has had just one practice to prepare to help the Wizards (0-7) in their efforts to claim an elusive first win when they host the Utah Jazz on Saturday at Verizon Center.
Nene isn’t expected to make an immediate return after being out since the London Olympics last August as he recovers from plantar fasciitis. But having the 6-foot-11 Brazilian center on the floor — even if it was just for limited, five-on-five half-court drills — is an encouraging development for a team that desperately needs him and John Wall to get back soon.
“He looked good. He was on the floor,” Coach Randy Wittman said of Nene. “A step in the right direction. Like I said, we haven’t had any setbacks with either John or him. And as long as we keep moving in that direction, it’s positive. Very positive.”
Point guard A.J. Price said Nene’s mere presence on the court made a difference — “It was night and day” — but when asked when he expected to have Nene in an actual game, Wittman smiled and said, “I have no idea.”
Wittman will have Livingston available after the Wizards signed him on Thursday to help the team get by as Wall sits with a stress injury in his left knee. And the Wizards could possibly have a different starting lineup when they host the Jazz, with Wittman no longer as hesitant about changing what hasn’t been working.
“I’m trying, but it becomes a point where you have to give something else a try, too,” Wittman said. “As a coach, you search to try to find that right mix and I haven’t been able to do that. We got to get to that point, where you’ve got five that are starting and you’ve got a rotation coming off the bench who knows when they are coming in. That’s when you become a consistent team. And we’re not even close to that now.”
The bench has outscored the starting five of Price, Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Trevor Booker and Emeka Okafor in four of the first seven games — including the 107-101 loss on Wednesday in Dallas, where the second unit scored a season-high 63 points. The reserves, led by Jordan Crawford and Kevin Seraphin, were responsible for 62 points in the home-opening loss to Boston.
Price sprained his right ankle early in the third quarter against Dallas but was able to practice without complication on Friday. He said the Wizards need to do whatever it takes to add a notch to the win column.
“We need to win as bad as possible,” Price said. “Definitely not where we wanted to be, where we thought we’d be. Not indicative of how well we’ve played at this point. But we still are 0-7 and winless.”
Price is averaging career highs of 10.1 points and 6.9 assists starting in place of the injured Wall, but Wittman felt the team needed to get more production from the point guard position. That led the Wizards to the 6-7 Livingston, eight years removed from being the fourth overall draft pick. Livingston has career averages of 6.8 points, 3.5 assists and 2.6 rebounds and gives the Wizards more versatility.
“I thought we needed to get another playmaker. A guy that can facilitate, maybe get us easier baskets,” Wittman said. “I think he’s a very high basketball IQ player. Obviously, you can post him some. He just knows how to run a team. He knows which guys are hot, how to get them the ball, that type of thing. He gives us good size at that position we haven’t had.”
Livingston had been training in Florida the past two weeks after the Houston Rockets waived him to clear up roster spots and money to complete the James Harden trade. He was in a rush to get back to the NBA and relieved to be coming back to an organization with which he was familiar.
“I’m just anxious to get out there,” said Livingston, who averaged 9.2 points and 4.5 assists in 26 games with the team in 2009-’10, and gained his first significant playing time since a gruesome knee injury more than five years ago. Former Coach Flip Saunders “really gave me the chance the opportunity to play consistent minutes. My knee kind of responded well, thank God, and I got a chance to get some confidence in me. Kind of reform my game.”
The Wizards hope he can help reform the league’s last winless team. Booker said the signing has put the players on alert. “You don’t know what’s going to happen. We need a win. I guess they felt they needed to make a change. . . . There’s a little sense of urgency. We know we need a win bad.”