On Sunday night in San Antonio, the Washington Wizards finally played a game of basketball after nearly two weeks off due to a COVID-19 outbreak that affected more than half of their roster. And despite that long layoff, they didn't play all that badly considering the circumstances, at least in the first half.
In the second half is where they showed their rust, lack of conditioning and essentially unprecedented lack of depth. After all, they were playing a good team while missing eight players, six of whom are in the league's COVID-19 protocol.
Washington started out hot to take a 10-point lead in the first quarter, only to see that diminish by halftime. The Spurs then erupted for 37 points in the third quarter and 36 in the fourth. It was the 21st consecutive loss for the Wizards in San Antonio.
The Wizards just ran out of gas, and once they did, the careless turnovers and defensive lapses followed. If they had won this game, it would have been one of their most impressive victories in a long time. That's because they were up against a lot and just couldn't overcome those odds.
Now they get Monday off with a match-up against John Wall and the Houston Rockets on Tuesday. It will be the first time Wall faces the Wizards and the first time he plays opposite Bradley Beal. Should be fun.
Before Sunday's game, head coach Scott Brooks was asked for his starting lineup and he decided to list them in reverse, as if he were performing some strange NBA-inspired sobriety test. His intention was to create suspense for the return of Russell Westbrook, who had been sidelined for about two weeks with a sore quadriceps muscle, an injury that made him miss time but ultimately not that many games due to the Wizards' predicament.
Westbrook didn't exactly look a whole lot faster or more explosive than before, which was the Wizards' hope. But it was just his first game back, so perhaps that will come over time, as the team believes his quad injury is now healed. Though it was never considered a serious injury, you have to wonder if he would have returned Sunday if it weren't for all the other players missing. Maybe they would have given him another game under normal circumstances.
But these are not normal times and if Westbrook didn't play, Washington would have had one natural point guard; rookie Cassius Winston. That's because both Ish Smith (COVID-19 protocol) and Raul Neto (groin) were out. Even Troy Brown Jr., who can play some point, was out in protocol.
Westbrook played just 25 minutes and ended up with nine points, eight rebounds and six assists. He also had four turnovers and shot 3-for-11.
The Wizards got some help this week by signing former Maryland star Alex Len once he was released by the Raptors and passed through waivers. He was thrown right into the fire in this one, as the Wizards desperately needed help and especially at his position with centers Thomas Bryant (ACL) and Moe Wagner (COVID-19 protocol) out.
Len simply needed to exist to make an impact in this particular game, but he also made a few plays that suggest he could help this team moving forward. He knocked down a three in the first half, dropped in a few buckets around the rim and set some solid screens to get guards open on the perimeter. Len had 11 points and five rebounds in 20 minutes.
Expectations aren't going to be high for a guy who just got cut by Toronto, one of the worst teams in basketball. But if he can set good picks, rebound and alter a few shots around the rim, he might be able to push Wagner for some minutes as Robin Lopez's back-up.
The Wizards have endured one of the more unfortunate health quandaries the NBA has ever seen with what has been the worst outbreak so far during the coronavirus pandemic. Although it's a tough situation, it has created unexpected opportunities, particularly for those who would otherwise not be playing big minutes.
Both Garrison Mathews and Jerome Robinson took advantage against the Spurs. They each played aggressively on offense and knocked down shots early, which helped their confidence. Mathews had nine points (3-7 3PT) and three steals, while Robison poured in 16 points to go along with five rebounds and four assists. The Wizards seem to have two fairly decent back-up shooting guard options between them, if only they could be more consistent.
Among the many players missing for the Wizards was rookie Deni Avdija, whom the Wizards took ninth overall in the 2020 draft. That meant he was not able to face off against the 11th overall pick, Devin Vassell who, like Avdija, is off to a solid start to his NBA career.
While Avdija was out, Vassell tore up the team that passed on him with 14 points, four rebounds and two steals in 24 minutes. He shot 4-for-6 from three.
Avdija has been a nice surprise for the Wizards so far and it would have been fun to see them square off. Avdija, though, remains out in COVID-19 protocol. Maybe next time these teams play, we'll get to see the two 2020 lottery picks go at it.