WASHINGTON -- Rui Hachimura, a rookie, and Moe Wagner, a second-year player, had each never missed an extended period of time due to injury until just recently. Throughout their entire basketball careers, going back through college and their youth, they were never forced to miss weeks or months at a time.
That was before mid-December when each went down and ended up missing roughly seven weeks apiece. Hachimura was out for 23 games with a groin injury and Wagner missed 25 with a left ankle sprain.
The time off required both to do something they had never done before which is not only heal, but find their rhythm and conditioning to regain their form. Both players happened to have done so surprisingly quickly.
In the Wizards' win over the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night, Hachimura had 20 points, four rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals. He shot 7-for-12 from the field.
Wagner had 12 points, three boards, a block and a steal. He went 5-for-7.
Hachimura has reached double-figures in all four games since returning. He has averaged 15 points on 53.3 percent shooting, even better than his full-season numbers of 14.1 points and a 48.9 field goal percentage.
Wagner has also been back for four games, reaching double-figures in the last two. He's averaged 11.3 points while shooting 67.9 percent since returning, right about where his season averages are (11.6 ppg, 59.6 FG%).
Doing that is not as easy as it may sound. They are still technically playing their way back into midseason game shape.
According to both of them, the trick to their success is all mental.
"I had never been away from basketball like this. But also I had never watched film or games like this," Hachimura told NBC Sports Washington. "So, that's why it helped. I watched a lot of games, like two or three games a day. I was imagining how I would play when I get back. That's why it's helping right now."
"It takes a while. You've gotta do a good job in the rehab and continue to stay locked in on the gameplans even when you're hurt," Wagner said.
Hachimura has returned just as sharp as he was before he got hurt. He's making his midrange shots consistently and making plays in transition.
Wagner is knocking down outside shots and cleaning up around the rim, just like he was earlier this season. And he's getting under opponents' skin on the defensive end.
On Tuesday, he even took a charge, which has become his trademark. He had previously been 0-for-3 since returning, twice getting blocking calls and once not getting a call at all.
So, maybe some of this has to be amended. There is still one area of Wagner's game that isn't all the way back.
"They hurt, so it's cool when it pays off. I'm a little rusty there. I will keep taking them," he said.
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