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Wall going strong even as injuries batter Wizards' roster

Star guard piling up solid performances to keep Washington afloat

POSTED: Jan 13, 2016 9:38 AM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner

NBA.com

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John Wall is fifth in the league in assists in January (9.0 per game).

— There's playing through injuries and then there's playing through injuries.

As in, your own vs. your teammates'.

John Wall, Washington's two-time All-Star point guard, is his team's only starter -- and one of only two Wizards, with reserve Ramon Sessions -- to have played in all 36 games this season. Others from coach Randy Wittman's preferred starting five have missed anywhere from a handful of games (Otto Porter's three and Marcin Gortat's four) to a lot (Kris Humphries' nine and Bradley Beal's 19). Big man Nene has missed 21 (due to calf and triceps injuries) while Alan Anderson's season debut still is weeks away (after left ankle surgery).

Wall got his assorted nicks and knocks too. In fact, it's inconceivable that a player of Wall's importance and usage (he leads the NBA in touches and is 13th in minutes) would be 100 percent healthy this deep into a season. Wall has also logged more than 200 minutes more than any of his teammates so far.

Wizards vs. Bulls

John Wall notches 17 points & 10 assists as seven Wizards' players score in the double digits to beat the Bulls 114-100.

Yet this season, he has endured a sprained knee, bruised ribs, a sprained ankle and something the Washington Post described as a bruised vastus medalis oblique above his left knee. Not to mention, The Post also reports Wall will undergo a precautionary MRI right above his left knee Thursday. He hasn't been so hurt that he has needed to sit out but, if Wall were a car, he definitely would benefit from a tune-up.

"He's our iron man," veteran big man Drew Gooden said. "He's playing through a lot of injuries. Banged up every night. He's playing a tough position. Other guys don't maybe last that long at that position, and he's fighting his way."

Said Wall: "There's been stuff that could have kept me out of the lineup, but I know how much it means to our team. If it's not going to jeopardize me or make me be injured for a long time, I just keep playing the right way. I know how much the team needs me when guys are down."

Wall has missed just three games since the start of the 2013-14 season -- if you don't count the five fractures in his left wrist and hand that cost him Games 2, 3 and 4 against Atlanta in the 2015 Eastern Conference semifinals. Even that injury -- those injuries, actually, considering how much damage he suffered in the series opener -- provided a testament to Wall's durability because he played just 10 days later, logging 82 minutes, 35 points and 20 assists in Games 5 and 6 of the series.

Before [it was] 'he couldn't make shots.' Now 'he can't make 3-pointers.' Now 'he don't want to be consistent.' What else? What else?! How many times he got to prove it to you?

– Nene, on teammate John Wall

So some minor ailments now? Don't be ridiculous.

"That's him. He's gonna play," Wittman said Monday, after Wall led the Wizards to a 114-100 road win against the Bulls. "He doesn't feel the greatest, but that's who he is. He loves the game, he loves playing. Doesn't like sitting out. It took five broken bones to get him to sit out last year -- and then he still came back. He's obviously the motor for us. When he moves the ball like that and sees the floor like that, it makes everybody's job a little bit easier."

Playing while partially hobbled or uncomfortable is one thing. But if an NBA point guard is the head of his team's attack, Wall has had aching and absent extremities around him all season. If he's lacking explosiveness for a quarter or a night, he can adjust his game internally, working around what ails him.

For most of this season, Wall has had to work around what ails everyone else.

"Just move the ball," Wall said. "Trusting these guys. I believe in these guys. I see these guys put in the work every day. If these guys are open, I believe they're going to make shots."

Wall Steal And Dunk

John Wall pokes the ball loose than runs the court for the fast break dunk.

Wall means "these" guys as opposed to "those" guys, Washington regulars like Beal (stress fracture), Gortat (knee) and Humphries (knee) who weren't available on Monday. The Wizards wound up with seven players scoring in double figures anyway. Take away Wall's 7-for-19 and the rest of them shot 51.3 percent.

Washington beat Chicago on the offensive boards. It got a boost from Gooden (10 points, 12 rebounds) as well as from Sessions and Gary Neal (a combined 27 points on 10-of-19 off the bench). But in the end, it was Wall orchestrating the outcome.

He scored seven of his 17 points in the final quarter. When the Bulls got within 89-85, he drilled a 19-foot shot off the dribble and found Nene for a layup. He didn't get drawn into a 1-on-1 battle with Derrick Rose, who scored a game-high 23 points but was minus-25 in his 31 minutes. And when Rose blew by him on the left side with less than eight minutes left, Wall didn't chase -- instead, he darted into the lane, anticipating Rose's kick back to Pau Gasol, and got the steal.

Wall Speeds To The Rack

John Wall completes the three-point play by bursting to the hoop for the layup and foul.

"That's a play that's killed us," Wall said. "When I see the back of his number, I've got to get back to the big, because Pau's made a living of making those shots. So I wanted to take it away and I got a good deflection."

Wall scored on a fast-break moments later. He stuck around for his 10th assist and 21st double-double, then got knocked down hard while fouling Bulls rookie Bobby Portis. That was enough, considering all the Wizards' other injuries, and Wittman pulled him with 2:49 left.

He's playing through a lot of injuries. Banged up every night. He's playing a tough position. Other guys don't maybe last that long at that position, and he's fighting his way.

– Washington Wizards forward Drew Gooden, on John Wall

"He's really the one-man fast break we have," said teammate Jared Dudley. "He's our one guy we can kind of fill in 20- and 10-type numbers. And defensively when he involved for us and gets on guys, that's when we're at our best.

"When John's got that energy and he's flying around, it's so contagious for our team. Right now he has a lot of pressure on him because right now, without Brad, he has to do it. It's incredible what he's doing with this team."

The load has been a little much at times. Wall sputtered in November, then picked up his pace well enough to earn the East's Player of the Month recognition in December. So far in a 3-3 January, his offensive and defensive ratings have him underwater again. But he's showing up -- with Washington two games out of a playoff spot and 5 out of the No. 3 seed -- and not giving up.

Kia Awards: John Wall

The Wizards' John Wall is the Kia Eastern Conference Player of the Month in December.

Wall ranked fifth among East backcourt players in the most recent All-Star balloting, but from Nene's impassioned support, it didn't sound like he or the Wizards would swap their guy for any of them.

"Man, that dude, man. There's a lot of people talking things about what he can't do. He been proving it. Anything you say, you'd better think twice because he's going to shut your mouth up.

"People, they don't know the future. Why tell him, a young fellow with a lot of talent, what he's gonna be able to do? Before [it was] 'he couldn't make shots.' Now 'he can't make 3-pointers.' Now 'he don't want to be consistent.' What else? What else?! How many times he got to prove it to you?

"So just keep talking crap and, you know, he's gonna keep shut your mouth. That's what I love about him."

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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