<
>

Wall's hand injury threatens to derail Wizards' run

ATLANTA –- John Wall tried to convince everybody, perhaps even himself, that he was going to play in Game 2.

He told writers =there was little doubt he would be able to go at the morning shootaround. But his swollen left hand told another story. It looked like it had been stung or bitten by something.

And the real problem for the Washington Wizards is that Wall's hand still looked awfully puffy late Tuesday night –- after he didn't play a second.

Without their All-Star floor general, the Wizards had their chances to steal Game 2 and put the East's top team in a perilous situation. But Atlanta won what basically amounted to a must-win Tuesday, especially after Wall was a late scratch before Game 2. The Hawks held off Washington 106-90 to even the series.

There has to be a part of the Wizards that feels awfully confident returning to D.C. with not just one road win, but also knowing they were within five points with six minutes remaining without Wall.

"We have to do better on both ends of the floor," Wizards guard Bradley Beal said. "Because this team is beatable. We feel like we are the better team. We just have to go out and do what we are supposed to do."

But there's also got to be another side to Washington that is absolutely terrified. Wall's hand could be the great equalizer of this second-round series.

The Wizards looked so confident and were playing so well. Their young star backcourt was blossoming before our very eyes. Paul Pierce has turned back the clock as if he were still hoisting up 3s with Antoine Walker in Boston, Otto Porter was showing his lottery-pick potential and Randy Wittman has been pushing all the right buttons.

But now an injury to Wall's wrist and hand potentially threaten what has been an impressive playoff run thus far. Wall hurt his wrist in the second quarter of Game 1 on Sunday, and this series could very well hang on the next three days before Saturday's Game 3.

Until the pain and swelling subside in Wall's hand and wrist, Washington and all of its fans will hold their collective breath. Wittman says his point guard is "day-to-day."

But the fact is a tortured Washington fan base has seen how this movie can end. Die-hard Bullets/Wizards fans have seen promise derailed by injury or bad luck or what the former longtime Washington Post columnist Tony Kornheiser calls "The Curse O' Les Boulez."

Washington has not been to the Eastern Conference finals since 1979. The city has seen its share of pain and heartache. It has watched the promise of talents such as Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Rasheed Wallace, Gilbert Arenas and John "Hot Plate" Williams, among others, fail to work out in D.C.

This is a franchise that couldn’t make the playoffs with Michael Jordan, no matter if it was an aging M.J. Injuries have plagued the franchise from Bernard King to Gilbert Arenas. Key acquisitions over the years (forget about Mitch Richmond, how about Ike Austin?) turned out to be blunders.

Two words: Kwame Brown. OK, you get it.

So after seeing this Wizards team steamroll the Raptors and then steal Game 1 in Atlanta, the idea of a rare trip to the Eastern Conference finals seems within reach.

But Washington will reach only as far as Wall's left hand will allow it to. And right now, Wall can't grip the basketball with his left hand the way he's used to. And for a player who likes to go left and crashes pretty hard to the floor often on his warp-speed drives, this is a concern.

So even though the Wizards had Philips Arena feeling awfully tense at moments in the second half, with Ramon Sessions filling in admirably for Wall with 21 points, Washington obviously needs Wall to heal as fast as he can get from one rim to the other.

"I can't really say," Wall said when asked how worried he is about his status for Game 3. "I am just doing the best I can. After it happened, I got treatment for like, 24 hours straight and doing everything I can. ... God has a plan. All I can do is keep getting treatment and try to get better like I am playing Game 3."

Problem is the basketball gods haven't always been on Washington's side. In this case, the schedule does the Wizards a favor with three days until the next game.

Atlanta, though, will also be using that time to get healthier and better. The Hawks have yet to play their best game. Credit Washington with some of that.

But the Wizards were surging with Wall and Beal getting better with each playoff game until Wall hurt his wrist and Beal sprained his ankle in Game 1. They still pulled out the game, and Beal is gamely trying to play through the ankle injury, scoring 20 points in Game 2.

But Wall was on such a roll. He had four straight double-doubles and was averaging 17.4 points, 12.6 assists and 1.4 blocks.

His confidence and leadership skills have been growing. And he and Beal have been learning how to close out playoff games with Pierce mentoring them.

X-rays have shown that the hand and wrist are not broken, even though Wall initially thought he had fractured the same wrist he broke in high school. When asked if he has undergone an MRI or if there is any ligament damage, Wall replied, "Nope, just a real, real bad sprain."

Washington holds its breath as it hopes that is all it is. Because as much as Beal and Pierce say the Wizards can win this series without Wall, Washington knows this round or the next could be short if Wall isn't Wall.

"Not concerned," Beal said when asked about his level of concern for whether Wall can play in Game 3. "If he plays, he plays. If he doesn't, he doesn't. We can't put all our marbles on John. We can't make him the savior."

Maybe not. But there might be a lot of prayers between now and Saturday to all different saviors for Wall's wrist and hand to heal.

Otherwise, The Curse might very well still be alive.