WASHINGTON - The Wizards are in the midst of their comeback against the Heat on Friday night. There are only a few minutes left on the clock in the fourth quarter. It’s just John Wall in with the reserves — Jodie Meeks and Tim Frazier are riding in the backcourt along with him.
The Wizards get a crucial stop they need and Wall gets the ball ahead of him at halfcourt with Hassan Whiteside five or six steps behind him. What’s his next move?
He pulls the ball out and sets up a halfcourt offense.
It’s rare to see Wall decline a chance to pounce on an opportunity in transition, but on Friday night against the Heat, that was the case. Why? Apparently, because Wall was playing on a bum knee.
“I could barely move out there,” Wall told reporters after the game. “Just fluid in my knee — from the IV.”
Wall had multiple IV’s last week while he was battling a virus. He needed them to play a game against the Atlanta Hawks while he was under the weather.
This isn’t the first time in his career Wall has played a game while hampered by injury — it isn’t the first time this season. Wall played with a shoulder stinger in the game against the Cavaliers where he was laid out on the floor after trying to split a double team. Channing Frye dipped into him a bit and he went crashing to the floor. When he got up, he could barely move his arm. But after a break in the action and a check from the team trainer, Wall got right back into the game.
Wall is dependable. Since he missed a 33 games with a knee injury in the 2012-13 season, he has played in at least 77 games every season. For the first time in his career this season, he had a clean bill of health coming out of the summer and into the new season. But right now it feels like the injury bug is starting to creep up to him at the most important time when games are going on.
From what we know about the ironman point guard, he’s never going to pull himself from games — just last season he said the league had gone soft with so many players resting. That said, it seems clear that he probably shouldn’t have been playing Friday after his knee flared up.
On Wednesday’s game against the Heat, Wall scored 27 points and went to the free throw line eight times. On Friday? He only took 12 shots — seven of which were three point attempts where he’s only shooting 34 percent on the season. He didn’t get to the free throw line at all.
Upon first glance, it looks like the issue here is shot selection. But there are points in the game where you can clearly see Wall isn’t right. You can’t quite put your finger on what the issue is, but he isn’t right, and that hampered his ability to get to the paint.
There was no pace to the game for Washington. There were no transition opportunities. He wasn’t attacking defenders the way he normally does. Instead, he just made plays to get by. And that doesn’t cut it in today’s NBA.
Is it frustrating? Certainly, Wall said. But it’s basketball.
“I can’t control it. It’s part of the game of basketball. You play to try and be injury free, but sometimes stuff happens,” he said. “It just came out of nowhere. I trust my training staff to tell me if I need to sit — what I need to do to get it back right.”
Hopefully, that’s true. Because if what we’ve seen thus far is any indication, it’s hard to believe. Despite two injuries that significantly hampered him, Wall remained in the game and played heavy minutes. Do the Wizards win either game without him in their with one arm or half a leg? I’m not sure. But that’s besides the point.
He takes pride in making himself available for the team at all times. But the Wizards are only 17 games into the season — every minute isn’t of the utmost importance. What is? Wall’s health. And him playing on a bum knee doesn’t make things any better. At some point, someone has to step in and save Wall from himself.
It goes beyond winning games for the Wizards right now. Wall is their designated player and he’ll be with the team until 2022. Playing through injuries has always been about shortsighted victories — whether it was to beat the Heat on Friday night or beat the Hawks and get to the Eastern Conference Finals with a broken hand. But now, the game is longevity. And if the Wizards want to have any, they’d best start managing their star much better.