WASHINGTON — After wrapping up their longest stretch of road games this season, the Washington Wizards returned home Tuesday to play the Oklahoma City Thunder without point guard John Wall.
Earlier that day, the team announced that the all-star point guard would require arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, the same knee that has bothered him all season. According to The Washington Post, Wall is expected to miss the next six to eight weeks for the Wizards.
Washington Wizards guard John Wall during an NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
This news comes at a difficult time for the team, which is currently fifth in the Eastern Conference standings. With the seventh-seeded Indiana Pacers only a single loss behind the Wizards, this six-to-eight-week stretch without Wall will be critical for the team’s playoff aspirations.
Over the next six weeks, the Wizards will play 19 games – 15 against teams with records above .500. Without Wall, the schedule could be a tough challenge.
After all, the team will be without its second-leading scorer, assist leader and leading blocker for more than a month. As bad as this news might seem, the Wizards are still confident in the talent they have on the roster.
“You never want to see anybody get injured, especially a guy like John,” Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal said. “But things do happen and it’s always next man up.”
Without Wall, the Wizards will have to rely on backup point guard Tomáš Satoranský as the primary ball-handler.
Washington Wizards forward Tomas Satoransky (31), of the Czech Republic, reaches for a pass made by Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Despite some struggles early in the year, the Czech guard has made the most of his increased playing time.
During a nine-game stretch that Wall missed from Nov. 25 to Dec. 12 with left knee issues, Satoranský averaged 8.4 points, 4.4 assists and 3.4 rebounds, including an impressive career-high 17-point performance against the Detroit Pistons on Dec. 1.
Then on Tuesday night, Satoranský put on yet another solid performance, this time as the starting point guard, in a 102-96 win against the Thunder. The Czech guard picked up six assists, five rebounds and two steals to go along with four points.
On the defensive side, Satoranský also managed to limit all-star point guard Russell Westbrook to only 13 points on 5-18 shooting. When the Wizards and Thunder faced off on Jan. 25, Westbrook scored 46 points, so Satoranský’s efforts on defense made a difference the second time around.
After Tuesday’s game, the Czech guard spoke about the difficulties of transitioning from being a backup player to a starter.
“It’s a challenge because you’re playing against their starters, so it’s kind of different,” Satoranský said. “It was my fourth start in three years and obviously you got to play much more focused, on defense especially.”
With Satoranský making the most of his playing time, and Beal playing at an elite level, the Wizards will need small forward Otto Porter Jr. to become a more consistent scorer in Wall’s absence.
Porter is currently the team’s third-leading scorer, averaging 13.8 point a game, but has struggled to find his rhythm in January, when he’s only averaged 11 points.
The small forward has also recently dealt with hip issues and has had to miss games throughout the season because of it. Although Porter admits he is far from being fully healthy, he said he would do whatever it takes to play.
This should be a good sign, especially after Porter scored 25 points against the Thunder, the most he’s scored since Dec. 29. The small forward hit some tough shots throughout the night and helped the Wizards pull away near the end to win.
With Wall out, Porter knows he and his teammates will have to rise to the occasion to keep the Wizards’ playoff hopes alive.
“We’ve got to start getting W’s,” Porter said. “Everybody’s got to step up, including myself.”