Andray Blatche was exactly where he wanted to be on Thursday, on the Wizards practice court with his teammates. Blatche missed a little more than a month of playing time after sustaining a left calf injury in a road game against the Charlotte Bobcats on Jan. 28.
“Knowing I have to miss basketball for anything is tough,” Blatche said.
“You never want to miss basketball. It’s either an injury, or you’re getting suspended for something. Being without basketball is never good news.”
Blatche is excited about his return to the lineup on Saturday when the Wizards host the Cleveland Cavaliers, and has started learning some of the new team plays. Blatche also said he likes the changes Wizards coach Randy Wittman has made to the lineup.
“I love the unit he put out there,” Blatche said.
“They work hard, they play hard, they’re very competitive and its been showing. The last two games, we were up in the fourth quarter and had a chance to win. We just got to figure out what it is that gives us that collapse and try overcome it and get the wins.”
Wittman isn’t sure how much Blatche will be able to play on Saturday, and said he’ll know more after the team practices on Friday.
“I can’t tell until really after tomorrow,” Wittman said.
“Maybe I’ll have a better idea, seeing where he’s at conditioning [wise], when we get into more scrimmage type situations, running up and down the floor for continuous time.”
Wittman has drawn some attention for making changes to his starting lineup, benching JaVale McGee and Nick Young to start the game against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday, and starting Kevin Seraphin and Jordan Crawford instead.
But Wittman bristled at the notion that he was “sending a message.”
“The message, non-message…” Wittman intoned and then trailed off, almost dismissively, at the suggestion that the benchings were intended to be a message.
“We’re trying to be competitive and do things that are going to get us closer and give us opportunities to win games. I don’t know where all of a sudden I’m sending messages. I’m coaching. That’s what I’m doing.”
“That’s what it’s called in our business is coaching. No subliminal messages here that somebody’s got to crypt through and figure. It’s coaching. They know. Each player. It’s not JaVale. It’s not anyone, it’s all 14 of them. They know where they stand and what I expect of them. So there is no message.”
“I mean, a lot of people state that. I’m coaching. And I coach you the same way as I would those guys. You need to ask better questions. That’s how I would coach you,” Wittman said to the media member who posed the “message” question.
Perhaps Wittman was accurate, because McGee made it clear after Wednesday’s game that if Wittman was trying to send him a message by starting Seraphin over him, he wasn’t clear on exactly what it was.
“I can’t say I do, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out sooner or later,” McGee said Wednesday after the game.
One beneficiary of Wittman’s emphasis on playing more veterans is Roger Mason Jr., who is finally getting chance to do what he came here to do, come off the bench for significant minutes and be a leader both on and off the court. Mason may get even more playing time if Young has to miss any game time.
Young missed practice on Thursday after bruising his right knee on Wednesday night. Young sat out the entire third quarter, then entered the game briefly in the fourth, only to signal that he needed to come out, and limped to the bench.
Young had an MRI on Thursday, and his status for Saturday is in question.
“I don’t know his status,” Mason said of Young.
“I know he banged his knee up a little bit yesterday. But if he is out, other guys have to step up. We’ve been playing, and since Witt has started playing some of us off the bench, we’ve had some success. We’ll just try to build off of that.”
“I think at the end of the day, you look at our record, we’ve struggled. So I think everything’s up in the air. At this point, we want to try to get wins. It’s nice to play games close, but we want to start getting wins, and that’s the name of the game.”
“That’s why you play. You can have youth movements, you can do all these types of things, but nobody wants to be a part of a team that’s losing, and I think Witt’s just searching for that. I think guys are going to respond to it, and we’re just going to keep trying to fight and get some wins out there.”
As for Blatche’s return, Mason was one of the players that kept in touch with Blatche, and made sure he was handling his rehab and time away from the team with a positive attitude.
“I’m sure he’s anxious [about returning],” Mason said.
“He’s been here working hard. He looked good today. I think he needs another practice to get some rhythm, and hopefully he’ll be out there to help us out soon. I’ve been trying to stay in his ear, keep him positive, letting him know that we’re still thinking about him.”
“He’s our teammate, and one thing about guys, when they’re hurt, sometimes you can get out of the loop, so I’m just trying stay in his ear, let him know that we need him to keep working and need him to get back to help us get some wins.”