HANG TIME, Texas — The win over the defending champion Heat in the first week of December was an eye opener. Taking down the Thunder in the first week of January was no less impressive.
But if the goal of the Wizards is to provide more than a once-a-month shock to the NBA system, then the season begins tonight.
Point guard John Wall will make his season debut tonight against the Hawks after missing three months due to a stress injury in his left patella. While nobody is expecting to see the player that averaged 16.3 points. 8.6 assists and 4.6 rebounds in his first two seasons, just having the former No. 1 draft pick on the court is finally a lift for the club that is again foundering at the bottom with a 5-28 record, the worst in the league.
Wall is trying to keep a lid on expectations, as he told Michael Lee of the Washington Post:
“I figure the first couple games probably won’t be the best games,” Wall said after practicing for the third consecutive day without complications from his left knee.
“Just go out there and play my game,” he said. “Don’t do too much. I know that’s the main thing I’ve got to do for my first game back. Just let the game come to me and just try to help my team out.”
Wall also doesn’t expect to have a difficult adjustment to playing alongside several new teammates after sitting next to the Wizards coaching staff for nearly every game and observing their tendencies. His teammates have already marveled as his speed and decision-making, which has been sorely missed for a team has started five different point guards this season – A.J. Price, Shaun Livingston, Jordan Crawford, Shelvin Mack and Garrett Temple.
When asked if he felt any external or internal pressures with coming back, Wall quickly responded, “No pressure at all.”
The biggest challenge for him, Wall said, will be “getting my legs underneath me but just working the offense, being the point guard, finding my teammates and knowing guys’ sweet spots is pretty easy to me.”
Without Wall to run the show, the Wizards have been virtually clueless all season, unable to attack defenses and score. In one more season when Washington made significant changes to the lineup — Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, rookie Bradley Beal — they have clearly lacked a leader to pull it all together.
While the medical staff will have Wall operating under a limit on playing minutes as he works his way back into game shape, Wizards coach Randy Wittman says there will be no limits to what he asks of his franchise player in terms of leading his team.
“John is going to have the ball in his hands a lot,” Wittman said. “I don’t want to take any pressure off him. He hasn’t gotten any pressure yet this year. I want him to feel some pressure. John likes pressure.”
Of course, Wittman can only hope that Wall will relieve any pressure on his own situation, which has to be in the crosshairs of a season when Mike Brown, Avery Johnson and Scott Skiles have already been relieved of their head coaching jobs.
If there has been a reason that Wittman has been spared the same fate, it’s because he’s been coaching with one hand tied behind his back without Wall. Now that the Wizards’ main man is back in the lineup, the heat is on and the clock is ticking.