WASHINGTON — — John Wall upgraded from a Washington Wizards T-shirt to his No. 2 practice jersey Thursday, a significant development during a season in which his absence has contributed to expectations being downgraded from reaching the playoffs to simply escaping the NBA cellar.
For the first time since a stress injury was diagnosed in his left patella in late September, Wall participated in limited-contact drills, sped up and down the court, and traded trash talk with his teammates after making baskets.
With the injured Trevor Ariza, Trevor Booker and A.J. Price also participating in some capacity, the practice also served as the first in which all 15 players on the roster were involved, something that didn't even happen in training camp, when Wall and Nene were both sidelined.
But Wall's presence on the main court at Verizon Center raised the energy level for a rare practice after games on back-to-back nights.
"This is Christmas all over for him, I'm sure, to finally reach this point," coach Randy Wittman said of Wall. "You could see the spark in his eyes — finally. So we just got to be patient. He's got to be itching to push this as fast as he can. We got to be careful with that."
Possibly because the team has waited more than five months to see Wall in action, or because he won't be available when the Wizards host the Brooklyn Nets tonight, Wittman spoke cautiously about the third-year point guard.
Wittman mentioned the need for Wall to regain his conditioning and strength, but Wall's teammates were much more encouraged by what they saw from the 2010 No. 1 overall pick.
"He's still the same player. Fast. Aggressive. He looked good. Looked like his old self," said Price, who has been out since Dec. 8 with a broken hand but participated in five-on-none, noncontact drills Thursday. "He was extremely active. Just talking. You could see that he really wanted it. He 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."
Wall was cleared to begin "ramping up" his basketball-related activities Dec. 14 after receiving a third Synvisc shot — to lubricate and cushion the knee — while visiting orthopedic surgeon David Altchek in New York. He was back participating in noncontract drills less than two weeks later and has already targeted a return for "sometime" this month.
"I know it's definitely tough for him. We've been talking, and he wants to be out there just as much as I do," said Booker, out since Nov. 19 with a strained right patella tendon.
Booker plans to come back Jan. 12 against Atlanta, but the Wizards won't set a specific date for Wall, who declined to talk with reporters after practice.
The Wizards (4-26) are off to their worst 30-game start in franchise history and have lost 11 of 12. Wittman usually gives his players the day off after playing back-to-back games, but he said having Wall and Ariza for full-contact drills was not a factor in putting his team back to work.
"No, we needed practice. We need to get better," Wittman said with a laugh. "This had nothing to do with those guys."
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