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In an NBA season that can only be described as abnormal, the Washington Wizards have experienced something none of them have before or want to experience again. It had been nearly two weeks since the Wizards played a game due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the team when they faced the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday, Jan. 24. The normal routine of practice, home games, and traveling to away games with teammates, were replaced with constant COVID-19 testing and days of solitude.
Coach Scott Brooks spoke before Sunday’s game, the team’s first since beating the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 11, about how he missed his players and the strangeness of only being able to wave at them from afar if, by chance, he saw them while getting his COVID-19 test. All things considered, Brooks was happy to be playing and praised his team’s effort in their 121-101 loss to the Spurs.
“The guys played hard,” he said. “We competed. Our bench came in and competed. We didn’t play particularly well, but we played hard, and that’s all I can ask for right now.”
The Wizards played without Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija, Dāvis Bertāns, Troy Brown Jr., Ish Smith, and Moritz Wagner, who were all out due the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Raul Neto also sat out with a groin injury and Thomas Bryant is done for the season with a torn ACL. The league requires a minimum of eight available players for a team to play.
During the hiatus, the Wizards signed center Alex Len, a former University of Maryland star, to a one-year deal, and forward Jordan Bell to a 10-day contract.
“This is our new team right now, until our other guys come back,” Brooks said. “Those are obviously really good players and important players that are out. In the meantime, guys are gonna have to step up and keep competing.”
Sunday marked the return Russell Westbrook, who had not played since Jan. 8 due to a quadriceps injury. Brooks described Westbrook as “healthy, but he’s not 100 percent basketball wise.”
Westbrook shot 3 for 11 and finished with nine points, eight rebounds, and six assists, while committing four turnovers in 25 minutes of play. Still, the Wizards entered halftime only trailing by one point, 48-47, with players like Jerome Robinson and Garrison Mathews making the most of their opportunities. Rookie Cassius Winston scored his first NBA points and finished with eight points, four rebounds, two assists, and one block.
But the same problems that have plagued the Wizards all season persisted. They struggled to contain the Spurs down the stretch, with San Antonio making 11 of their 15 three pointers in the second half. Bradley Beal, the NBA’s current leading scorer, finished with 31 points.
“I thought we did a good job in the first half, second half not so much,” Westbrook said, summing up the game.
Afterward, both Brooks and Beal spoke about needing to get back into a rhythm. The players, some of whom are playing together for the first time, appeared out of sync at times on both ends of the court.
“If you haven’t played in a while, it takes a while. You can’t just turn the switch on,” Brooks said.
“We haven’t played in a long time. I knew that was why I was ass in the first half, just trying to get my rhythm back, get the flow back,” Beal added. “But it’s no excuse, this is what we do. It’s our job. Granted the circumstances has never been seen in NBA history with us kinda going on hiatus for two weeks. But we gotta go out and compete. We gotta go out and play.”
They’ll get another chance tomorrow against John Wall and the Houston Rockets.
Photo by All-Pro Reels, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.