- The Washington Times
Thursday, January 21, 2021

Robin Lopez came up with an analogy when discussing the Washington Wizards’ COVID-19 situation with coach Scott Brooks. The center compared waiting for the return of his teammates in quarantine to anticipating football players in high school joining the basketball team. When football was over, Lopez said, the dual-sport athletes would switch to basketball.

Until that moment, adjustments had to be made. That’s the reality of being short-handed, Lopez said. 

“People are playing out of position,” Lopez said. 

The Wizards are on the verge of resuming their season as they held their second straight practice Thursday, more than a week after the team’s coronavirus outbreak. Washington has had six players test positive, but now has enough healthy bodies to practice — and presumably enough to play games. The Wizards are still scheduled to play Sunday in San Antonio against the Spurs. 

But the Wizards are left trying to get used to the difficult circumstances in front of them.

Despite being back at practice, Washington had only nine players participate — and only eight will likely be available for Sunday’s game as guard Russell Westbrook is out with a quad injury.  As a result of the lack of bodies, Brooks said the Wizards resorted to 3-on-3 play instead of 5-on-5 and also did 5-on-0 drills. 

Even if the Wizards can technically play, whether they can compete is an entirely different question.

“It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” Brooks said. “There’s some holes, but there’s also some opportunities. Wrapping my mind around it now, I’m more excited now about how we can fill it in and kind of junk up the game and give us a chance. I think we’ve got pretty competitive guys. 

“We’re going to fight like heck and claw and do whatever it takes to make it a competitive game and give ourselves a chance to win.” 

From a depth standpoint, the Wizards’ absences put Brooks and the coaching staff in a tough position. Forwards Troy Brown Jr., Deni Avdija, Rui Hachimura and Davis Bertans are all out, as is guard Ish Smith and center Moritz Wagner. That means Washington will be without a true power forward, a backup point guard and a backup center whenever they take the court. 

Here’s how extreme the situation is: On Thursday, Brooks put star Bradley Beal, a natural two-guard, at power forward out of necessity. At one point, Beal was matched up in the post, having to guard Lopez — a 7-foot center who holds a seven-inch height advantage. 

“I think it was very effective,” Lopez said, his voice oozing with sarcasm. “He’s an intimidator on both ends. That’s something I don’t want to witness again.” 

For the Wizards, there’s concern whether they’ll be properly conditioned before having to play again. Washington last took the court against an opponent on Monday, Jan. 11 and until practicing Wednesday, many of the players weren’t able to play basketball. 

The latter is why the NBA postponed the Wizards’ upcoming game against the Milwaukee Bucks, which was originally scheduled for Friday until late Wednesday. When meeting with reporters before the game was postponed, Beal strongly pushed back against the idea of having to play on such short notice — calling it a “receipe for injury.” 

Beal said players needed time to get back into shape after having such a long absence.
“It’s hard to put a date on that,” Beal said. “I know one day is (darn) sure not enough, especially being off of a week. … It’s a high level of basketball. It’s not like we’re coming out here and playing rec ball. We have to respect our bodies, our craft and make sure we’re healthy.” 

On Wednesday, Brooks echoed a similar sentiment. But a day later, Brooks said he was feeling more optimistic about the upcoming games on the schedule. He said the NBA was in a tough position and the Wizards would have to follow their guidance.

“When I got the news (that Friday’s game was postponed), it gave me hope,” Brooks said. “I was hoping they’d make that decision. … I’m in a good place now. I’m excited about the opportunity. I hope we do get to play.

“It’ll force us to all be creative, players and coaches alike,” he added.

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