- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Following shootaround Tuesday, John Wall’s workout began. The Wizards guard worked on his shooting and his footwork, testing his surgically repaired knee by driving for layups.

It has been six weeks since Wall underwent left knee surgery, and he’s getting closer to returning. His next major step will be reintroducing contact during practice, which could happen next week. If all goes well, Wall could start playing in games soon after that.

The Wizards have survived this stretch without Wall, posting a 12-8 record. But the goal, coach Scott Brooks repeatedly said, was for the Wizards to improve, so when Wall returned, they could be even stronger.

So with Wall’s return in sight, has that happened?

“We didn’t want to put our heads down and feel sorry for ourselves because we lost one of the best players in the league,” Brooks said. “I think our guys responded well. We played some good basketball. … I think in some areas we haven’t improved.”

Brooks said those areas include defense and turnovers, problems that have dogged the Wizards even with Wall. Lately, teams have scored points inside the paint, seemingly at will against the Wizards.

After the Wizards‘ 116-111 loss Tuesday to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Brooks was short and direct in his post-game press conference. The Wizards gave up 64 points inside — and opponents have averaged 66.7 points in the paint over Washington’s last three games. That’s a small sample size, but the Wizards are allowing an 11th-worst 45.6 points in the paint per game this season.

Brooks said his perimeter defenders have to do a better job of sticking to scouting reports and for the team’s bigs to contest shots inside, even if it means fouling.

Turnovers, too, have been a problem. With Wall off the court this season, the Wizards have a turnover percentage of 15.5 per 100 possessions. That number drops to 14.2 with Wall playing.

The Wizards, though, have cut down on the percentage of turnovers in Wall’s latest absence. In the 20 games played, Washington have a turnover rate of just 12.9 per 100 possessions. They have also increasingly shared the basketball — assisting on 69.4 percent of made baskets. With Wall on the court, that number becomes 57.9.

Brooks cited the improvement of individual players during this stretch, singling out guard Tomas Satoransky.

Satoransky has taken strides since last season and has made a case for continuing to see significant minutes when Wall comes back.

“His confidence is through the roof,” guard Bradley Beal said. “I think it was a challenge in the beginning with John being out. I think he thought there was a lot of pressure on him or whatever, but he embraced it and got better. … Even when John gets back, we need him to stay the same guy.”

Satoransky will also be important in the minutes without Wall or Beal on the court, spearheading a normally shaky second unit.

Satoransky’s playing time will also come down to matchups and fit. Can the Wizards, for instance, have Wall, Satoransky and Bradley Beal on the court at the same time? Three-guard lineups are increasingly common, but the group has a negative point differential in the small amount of minutes played.

As for Wall, Beal said “it’ll take him a minute” to get caught up with conditioning and his rhythm.

The Wizards, Brooks said, plan to be cautious in managing Wall’s workload, likely resting him on back-to-backs. Recurring soreness, after all, was a major source of Wall’s knee pain.

After Wednesday’s game against the Boston Celtics, the Wizards will have 13 games left in the regular season. The Eastern Conference standings are still jammed together, and the Wizards are vying for homecourt.

“I still feel like we haven’t even played our best basketball yet,” Beal said. “… We have a little bit of time left to put a nice stretch of games together, so we can get on a nice little winning streak going into the playoffs.

“But I agree with coach because John’s an energy plug in. Nothing is going to change when he gets back, so need to make sure we’re all on our ‘A’ game and be prepared for when he gets back because we know he’s going to bring it and be great.”

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