Washington Wizards head coach Flips Saunders was back at practice on Friday morning, running his players through drills in preparation for Saturday night’s game against the team he coached from 1995 to 2005, the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Saunders has been away from the team in recent days to be with his mother Kay, 90, who passed away early Friday morning.
“It was good to get back to see the guys. It [practice] went good. I think we accomplished [a lot] went through a lot of things offensively and went through some things defensively, did a lot of breakdown stuff. The guys seemed in very good spirits. They have always been very resilient,” Saunders said of his squad, who is mired in a seven game losing streak.
Forward Rashard Lewis is still bothered by soreness in his right knee and was considering shutting it down for the remainder of the season to have the knee scoped, but for know, is planning to play through the injury.
“Rashard is going to play. He’s fine. He’s got a situation with his leg where it’s not going to get hurt anymore, but he has soreness. Sometime the soreness in his knee puts him in a situation where his leg can’t fire as much as he wants to. He’s such a professional he wants to play and he wants to perform at a high level and he wants to help the team and he feels sometimes that he’s not out there helping enough,” Saunders said.
Lewis has expressed concern that his injury keeps him from being able to make a significant contribution to the team.
“I told him ‘let me be the judge of that’. He’s important to us, as much as anything just his leadership. He does a lot of things that go unnoticed. We’ll just have to keep on monitoring it, He’s going to keep on rehabbing it and we’re going to try some different things to try and keep him lose when he sits out and just monitor it more,” Saunders said.
Saunders is also keeping an eye on the playing time of Josh Howard, who has battled knee soreness since undergoing surgery for a torn ACL last year.
“It becomes difficult when you have an agenda and you’re in the heat of the battle and you’re trying to monitor those guys minutes (Howard and Lewis). You’re trying to monitor trying to make sure the young guys play, so it can become tough at times.”
“What happens sometimes is you get caught being in a situation monitoring minutes that maybe you don’t have the combination on the floor that you’d want to because you have to take somebody out when you’re playing well, or you might be struggling and you need somebody in there and you can’t go with them because of the minute limitation.”
Struggling to find quality minutes is Trevor Booker, but Saunders likes what he sees thus far in the rookie forward.
“We’ve got to try and find a way to play him more because he’s too just effective when he’s on the floor. I’ve always said with rookies, what you do is you give them responsibility, as much responsibility as they can accept and continue to improve, then you give them more.”
“I think he’s shown here over the last three or four weeks that he’s accepted the responsibility and he’s played at a high level and so he deserves more responsibility, which we’ll give him starting tomorrow,” Saunders said.
Saunders also expressed some concern over the team’s free throw shooting, and devoted a lot of practice time on Friday to free throws.
“That becomes very much a mental thing for young players especially when they get into the league, or anybody you miss them [free throws] and it becomes a little bit tougher,” Saunders said.
Rookie forward/center Kevin Seraphin has shown some promise on the defensive end, and Saunders hopes to see that continue.
“He [Seraphin] struggled a bit last game, but he’s had very good progress. He’s understanding a lot of things as far as what we’re trying to do; he’s one of our better players defensively in pick and rolls because he’s got such quick feet.”
Despite the team’s 15-45 record, Saunders has discovered some positives in the play he has seen from his rookies.
“I don’t think anyone anticipated that our rookies, our three first round picks, would be totally where they’re at, as far as their development. You put them on the floor and they don’t look uncomfortable. For a lot of these games, we have three rookies on the floor at one time. They’re taking a little bit of lumps right now, but it’s going to benefit them down the road.”