With Rashard Lewis out, Yi Jianlian gets an opportunity
Rashard Lewis left the team this week to get a second opinion in Houston for the right knee that has sidelined him for past two games and kept him ineffective for the past few weeks. Coach Flip Saunders said Lewis was expected to return on Friday but will not be available on Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Lewis said last week that he might need surgery to repair his right knee tendinitis, but he came back to play one more game, scoring 10 points in a win over Minnesota. Afterward, he said he might seek another opinion. "We haven't heard from the doctors yet, but he hasn't been able to play," Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said. "We want to make sure that he feels better and don't leave any stone unturned and do what's best for the player long term."
With Lewis and Blatche sidelined on Saturday, Trevor Booker and Yi Jianlian will have an opportunity to get more minutes. Yi has had an uneven season with the Wizards, showing flashes but unable to give Saunders a reason to keep him on the floor. He suffered a hyperextended right knee in November and has had recurring problems with the knee throughout the season.
"He's had a rough year because he played so well in training camp," Saunders said. "Then he got hurt, and he just hasn't been able to get into a rhythm. By the time he was able to come back after about his third injury, we had Rashard and so he was on the outside looking in, and Book has played well. The minutes he had were kind of taken away because of somebody else taking advantage."
After having a promising showing during the world championships in Turkey, Yi is averaging career lows of 4.9 points and 3.1 rebounds and he will be a restricted free agent this summer. The importance of the final 19 games is not lost on him.
"Try to take advantage, working hard to improve myself. Every game, just play as hard as I can on the floor, no matter how long I play," Yi said. "For myself, it's tough. I think it was pretty good in the beginning of the season. After I got hurt and then got hurt again, I've been trying to get better and got out of the rotation. There hasn't been too much playing time so it's tough for me. But I'm telling myself every day to work hard, that I can play for my future."
Saunders admitted that injuries have contributed to Yi falling out of the rotation. "I don't ever believe that just because you're hurt, when you come back you're given a spot. Other guys play better, then they get those opportunities," Saunders said. "But I do think he's probably had his best couple of practices the last two days, and he's probably as healthy as he's been. Hopefully, health will lead to opportunity, and opportunity will lead to him getting his confidence and expanding his role."
Yi is hoping that he will get that chance with so much on the line. "I've been working hard. I think it's for the future and for the rest of the season," he said. "As a young player, you have to work hard every day, no matter that we're far away from playoffs and maybe last place for this season. But you still gotta give it up, working hard for next season."