On the day he was selected as an Eastern Conference all-star for the fourth consecutive year, Washington Wizards point guard John Wall spent the afternoon as he usually does — in the cold tub.
Inside Verizon Center on Thursday, Wall was poked with needles that made his muscles twitch, stretched to the point where his body jerked on the trainer’s table and positioned in a machine that keeps the blood flowing through his calves and thighs. Even after a light team practice, Wall must go through a physically rigorous routine. It’s this behind-the-scenes work that has helped Wall shine.
Wall underwent surgery on both knees in the offseason but recovered in time for the start of the regular season. Though he has previous All-Star Weekend experience as a starter and even as the winner of the slam dunk contest in 2014, his selection by NBA coaches as one of seven reserves for the Feb. 19 All-Star Game in New Orleans might be one of his greatest individual accomplishments.
“When I was going through the process of listening to what the doctor was telling me and how long it might take, [the doctor said] ‘you might not be ready to start the season right away,’ ” said Wall, before revealing another shocker: “I really wasn’t supposed to play back-to-backs until January.”
As part of a recovery plan devised by the Wizards, Wall’s representation and the surgeon who performed the procedures, Wall sat out the second night of the team’s first two sets of back-to-back games. After that, he returned to playing full time and has starred in what has been a career season.
Wall is averaging a career-best 23.1 points per game, to go along with 10.1 assists. He has 26 double-doubles, more than twice the total of any other guard in the conference. (Boston’s Avery Bradley and Indiana’s Jeff Teague have nine.) Wall leads the conference with 25 games of 10 or more assists; only MVP candidates James Harden (39) of Houston and Russell Westbrook (28) of Oklahoma City, both in the Western Conference, have more. Wall has also collected a steal in 33 straight games — the longest such streak of his seven-year career.
Furthermore, in a testament to his durability, Wall ranks fourth among all guards in minutes played (36.4 per game) — a number that stands out even more considering how the Wizards wanted to restrict him earlier in the year.
“I think that would’ve hurt us as a team but also hurt me, without me being able to be out there and help my teammates out,” Wall said. “With all the hard work, my trainer Jesse [Phillips] helping me out, me putting in the dedication throughout the summer and still throughout this season to be ready is a big key.”
Before every game, Wall’s routine continues. On Jan. 3 as the Wizards prepared to face the Dallas Mavericks, Wall laid on his back, thanking his teammates and coaches for his honor in being named the Eastern Conference Player of the Month while Phillips stretched Wall’s legs. Phillips made a move that yanked Wall’s body down the padded table. Wall didn’t make a peep, but his expression revealed something else.
“Yes,” Wall said acknowledging that the stretching does hurt. “It pops.”
The Wizards lost that night on the road but the poor performance was just a smudge on an otherwise sterling two months of work. Since starting the season 2-8, Wall has been the engine behind Washington’s resurgence. Since Dec. 8, the Wizards have an 18-7 record, the best mark in the conference. They have won 14 straight games at Verizon Center, the third-longest such stretch in franchise history. The Wizards (25-20) are 1 1/2 games behind the fourth-place Atlanta Hawks in the standings. On Friday, Washington will return to Atlanta for the first time since its decisive season-opening loss.
“We started off pretty bad,” Wall said. “We weren’t in position to be a playoff team and there are a lot of great guards who have been playing well in the East this year, so with us having a great December, us winning a lot of games, and starting off January very well and us being in the playoff race, I think that’s what solidified” the all-star selection.
The rest of All-Star Game rosters will be confirmed with the televised announcement of each team’s reserves on TNT at 8 p.m. Eastern time Thursday.
This story will be updated.