Washington won four straight games without Beal, the team’s best player who was out due to COVID-19. The superstar is set to miss time again — at least three games with a right hamstring strain, the team announced Monday night — and it’s coming at an inopportune time for the Wizards.
Washington has won just one of its past seven games. And now without Beal for the next week (or more), Kristaps Porzingis, Kyle Kuzma & Co. can’t afford to let the slump continue. Whatever it was that allowed the Beal-less Wizards to string together four straight victories last month, the team needs that again.
“[Beal] is a big part of our team,” Porzingis told reporters Tuesday. “We’re going to have to figure out a way to win some games. We’re going to have to.”
Beal went down with a hamstring injury in the first quarter of Washington’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. Sure, the Wizards played well without the 29-year-old guard in November. But Sunday’s loss without Beal was arguably one of the worst of the season, as the Lakers led by 10-plus points for the entire second half and Anthony Davis scored 55 points and grabbed 17 rebounds.
The recent slump may not be as bad as it looks on paper. Two of the losses came to a solid Miami team — both by under 10 points — and one was a nine-point setback to Boston, which owns the best record in the NBA at 20-5. Then after a 15-point win over Minnesota, the team lost on the road to the Nets by six and to the Hornets by one.
But the upcoming schedule is just as tough. After road games at Chicago on Wednesday and Indiana on Friday, the Wizards face the Clippers and Nets at home. Then comes a brutal West Coast road trip with games against the Nuggets, Clippers, Lakers, Suns, Jazz and Kings. At 11-13, the Wizards entered Tuesday tied for ninth in the Eastern Conference.
“We’re just not playing the right brand of basketball right now,” Kuzma said. “We’ve just got to center in and get back to what we were doing when we won five out of six. We’ve just got to get back to whatever we were doing well. We need to all look back at that and understand that we can do it. We’ve done it, we’ve strung games. We just have to do it.”
When Beal was placed in the NBA’s health and safety protocol in November, it could have caused the Wizards’ season to unravel. Washington had just suffered its worst home loss in Wizards history with a 42-point demolition at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets and were losers of five of its last six games.
But Kuzma and Porzingis responded by playing their best basketball of the young campaign, and role players like Deni Avdija, Rui Hachimura, Corey Kispert and Jordan Goodwin stepped up. Kuzma scored 36 points to lead Washington to a victory over Dallas, and Porzingis put up 31 points and 10 boards in a win over the Jazz.
“We’ve done pretty well when he’s been out of the lineup,” Kuzma said. “Certain guys when he’s back in [they] suppress themselves a little bit. Hopefully they can come out of it a little bit and get some confidence.”
Since the start of last season, the Wizards are 25-35 with Beal, who signed a $251 million max contract in the summer, and 21-24 without him.
“I think we’ve shown at times that we’ve been resilient enough to pull together and respond and play well [without Beal],” Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “I know he’s missed some games here and there for a variety of reasons. Sometimes that helps guys. It galvanizes the group, pulls them together. You dig down and find a way.
“But there’s no doubt we don’t want to play without him for long.”
• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC.