What’s the elixir for a team with the worst record in the NBA?
What gives hope to a team that has lost three in a row, 11 of 12 and 26 of 30 this season?
How do you put a smile on the face of a coach who hasn’t for the better part of two months?
Let John Wall loose, of course.
For the first time since being diagnosed with a stress injury to his left kneecap on Sept. 28, the Wizards’ 22-year-old point guard participated with some contact in Thursday’s practice with the team at Verizon Center.
A date for Wall’s return to the lineup is still in question but he has projected a return sometime this month.
“This is Christmas all over for him, to finally reach this point,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “You could see the spark in his eyes – finally. So we just gotta be patient. He's got to be itching to push this as fast as he can. We’ve got to be careful with that.
Wittman said Wall was “breathing hard” and “looked a little rusty” but moved well with light contact.
“It was good,” he said. “That’s a positive, trust me.”
Wall was not the only player lifting the Wizards’ spirits on Thursday. Forwards Trevor Ariza [strained left calf] and Trevor Booker [strained right knee] also participated in limited drills, while point guard A.J. Price [fractured right hand] ran the floor without contact.
Of the four injured players, Ariza appears to be the closest to returning to the lineup. His availability for Friday night’s home game against the Brooklyn Nets will be determined prior to the game.
Only the final minutes of Wizards practices are open to the media and Wall was not made available afterwards, but his teammates had glowing reports on the team’s leading scorer the past two seasons.
“He was extremely active,” Price said. “You could see that he really wanted it. And that’s always good to see, especially from your franchise player, coming back off injury, to show how enthused he was to be back out there and how aggressive he approached the situation.”
Thursday marked the first time all season the Wizards have had 15 players on the practice floor and no one would like Wall back in the lineup more than Wittman. But he made it very clear the team will not rush the point guard back into action.
“We've got to get him in shape,” Wittman said. “That’s the main thing now. He’s been out a long time. He's been doing a lot of conditioning form the standpoint of what he could do, non weight-bearing stuff.
“We’ve got to make sure he’s in good condition [and not] go out there and hurt himself from a calf muscle or a hamstring or something. We don’t want to set ourselves up for that.”
Wall led the Wizards in scoring as a rookie with 16.4 points a game and again last season at 16.3 points and his return would take much of the scoring pressure off guards Bradley Beal and Jordan Crawford.
On Thursday, just the thought of him returning to the Wizards lineup was enough to brighten a team that is coming off three straight losses.
“He’s passionate about the game,” Ariza said. “He wants to win. He wants to be a good leader. He’s doing the things that he needs to do to help this team try to get over the hump. …This is my first time actually seeing him in a practice setting. He looked good to me.”