- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Bandaging on John Wall’s injured left hand continued to recede. The light amount of white tape and padding over the back of his left hand after Tuesday’s low-key practice looked more apt for someone who had suffered a bite or cut, not a victim of five fractures, which Wall is.

The lighter protection allowed the Washington Wizards‘ star guard a significant step typically associated with those just learning basketball, not the starting point guard in an All-Star game. Wall dribbled, lightly, on Tuesday with his left hand, which he injured in a fall during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks.

Wall also worked on his shooting technique with flat-footed, close-range, one-handed shots during the portion of practice open to reporters. His injured guide hand remained stoic at his side. Wall remains questionable for Game 5 in Atlanta on Wednesday night. The Wizards are 1-2 without him against the top-seeded Hawks. The series is tied, 2-2.

“He’s moving in the right direction,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “Swelling’s down again; minimal swelling. He wanted to dribble the ball a little bit, get the feel of it here, so that’s kind of what he did today.

“It gets to a point now, I think, he’s got to get looked at again. I think probably that’s the next step and go from there.”

The Wizards stressed that a reduction in swelling was paramount for Wall. His next examination, which, according to Wittman was possible Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, was dependent on the swelling going down. Wall has reached that stage a little more than a week after first injuring his non-shooting wrist and hand when Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague ran under Wall on a fastbreak. Wall put out his left hand to stabilize his body during the fall. He later said he thought his wrist was broken, though the initial diagnosis was a “real, real bad sprain.” Wall also said he didn’t think Teague undercut him intentionally.

Without Wall, the Wizards have struggled against Atlanta’s point guards. To close Game 3, the Hawks began playing Teague and Dennis Schroder alongside each other more often. If Wall were healthy, Washington would have a solid counter to that lineup, playing Wall along with backup point guard Ramon Sessions. The two often played next to each other after Sessions was acquired in a trade for Andre Miller on Feb. 19.

Acquiring Sessions provided Washington with a swifter defender to replace the aging Miller, who was the league’s oldest active player. Yet, it has not helped much without Wall against the Hawks‘ point guard tandem which showed up in Game 4 with the intent of driving the basketball often.

“I thought their guards — really, everybody — Schroder and Teague gave us some problems in penetration, but so did [Paul] Millsap and [Al] Horford,” Wittman said. “It wasn’t just the guards and they came out super-aggressive and intent on trying to get to the basket. We’ve got to do a better job of [defending] that, No. 1.”

The uptick in driving allowed Atlanta to dominate work in the paint. The Hawks outscored the Wizards 32-16 in the pain in the first half of Game 4.

Schroder has undergone a personal surge since Wall’s injury. He did not play well in Atlanta’s opening-round series against the Brooklyn Nets. The German import shot 41.8 percent and his assist-to-turnover ratio was close to even. In the last two games against the Wizards, Schroder has shown his jitterbug moves to the rim and outside shot can be effective. He’s averaged 16 points, 6.5 assists and just one turnover in the last two games.

Teague has also become more aggressive. After taking Game 1 in Atlanta and keeping most of Game 2 close without Wall, the Wizards talked about how important it was to keep Teague from the paint. In the last two games, he’s averaging 22 points, 7.5 assists and 1.5 turnovers.

“It wasn’t necessarily what they were doing, it’s kind of what we weren’t doing,” Sessions said.

Washington adjusted in the second half, when the Hawks field-goal percentage dwindled to 34.9 after brisk 59.1 percent shooting in the first half. Eventually, the points in the paint squared by game’s end. Wittman said sinking transition defense was a key to the change. The Wizards were able to get more defenders back on the break and into the paint closing driving gaps. After establishing their transition defense, they were able to emerge into their halfcourt defense. In essence, Washington was trying to stop Atlanta from doing what Wall does so well when healthy. His fast push creates fissures in the opposing defense.

“We finally got our feet grounded underneath us,” Wittman said. “First half, we were all over the board from a defensive standpoint. We can play better from a defensive standpoint … We’re going to have to play better. It’s pretty black and white, what we have to do.”

Wall’s status remains in a gray area. The Wizards, and their team doctors, flew to Atlanta on Tuesday night. They shootaround Wednesday morning at a local college where Wall Watch will continue. With Schroder and Teague excelling, Wall can’t heal fast enough.

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