Okafor a steady presence for Wizards

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Sports,NBA,Wizards,Craig Stouffer

Injuries limit options in frontcourt

Nene's timetable for a return from plantar fasciitis in his left foot is unknown. Kevin Seraphin continues to work his way back from a right calf strain, and Trevor Booker has played only twice in the preseason. With two more contests remaining before things start to count, the only certainty in the Wizards' frontcourt might be Emeka Okafor.

The ninth-year center missed the Wizards' first three preseason games after a bout of food poisoning during training camp at George Mason. Okafor marked his return -- and Wizards debut -- with 11.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in his first two games only to struggle offensively against Milwaukee over the weekend with zero points and seven rebounds.

But with the Wizards' options limited up front to start the year, Okafor will have a chance to match the double-figure points and rebounds he put up in each of his first five seasons.

Note
The Wizards got a scare when rookie guard Bradley Beal turned his left ankle during a five-on-five scrimmage in practice Monday. Beal yelled as he fell to the ground and rolled around in agony. But he was able to put weight on his ankle right away and left the practice court under his own power. Beal is averaging 13.5 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in the preseason.

"My goal in preseason: get refamiliar with my game and seeing what I can do well, what I need to work on," said Okafor, who averaged 9.9 points and 7.9 rebounds in 27 games for New Orleans last season, his fewest appearances since 2005-06.

Entering the preseason's home stretch, Wizards coach Randy Witt?man doesn't plan to approximate a normal rotation when his team takes on Miami and San Antonio this week. He will continue shuffling players in and out.

"We've got some decisions still to make, obviously, with the guys that we still have missing, Kevin and Nene in particular," Wittman said after practice Monday. "I'm still going to give these guys an opportunity to showcase a little bit there. We'll play kind of like we have the last couple of games."

The most obvious choice to start alongside Okafor in next week's opener could be Booker, who has bounced back from a left hamstring strain to score 34 points in 39 limited minutes over two games. Call him undersized, but the powerful 6-foot-8 third-year forward had a team-high 22 points and seven rebounds in Washington's 102-94 win over the Bucks.

"It's always good not to be hurt," Booker said. "I just hate watching my team -- I hate watching, period, from the stands and the sideline."

Wittman also has used Chris Singleton at power forward and Jan Vesely at center, makeshift roles that are likely to continue. At some point before 5 p.m. on Monday, the coach will have to make a choice among Brian Cook, Earl Barron and Shavlik Randolph to finalize the roster.

If Nene hasn't returned to practice by then, his availability for the season opener will remain in doubt. The Brazilian said he has been obedient with his rehabilitation and visited a foot specialist in Baltimore last week.

"I want to [play in the season opener]," Nene said. "But sometimes it does not go the way you want. I just want to make sure I'm healthy to help my team because if I sit down again, that's not good."

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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Craig Stouffer

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner