Bradley Beal wasn’t ready to start wearing designer suits on the sideline so early in the season, and after a relatively successful week the Washington Wizards weren’t necessarily prepared to have to start regrouping in the absence of their leading scorer.
But after a rookie season in which he tried to play through various injuries, Beal vowed that he would “stop being hard-headed” and speak up at the first sign of trouble. That proactive approach is the primary reason the Wizards will be without Beal for at least two weeks as he deals with a stress injury in his proximal right fibula.
The Wizards delivered the news on Tuesday, as the team prepared to host the Kobe Bryant-less Los Angeles Lakers.
But in their first game with Beal sharing a seat next to the coaches, the Wizards won, 116-111, and utilized the kind of team play required to have success with 20 points taken out of the lineup.
Reigning Eastern Conference player of the week John Wall provided an incredible, 360-degree highlight dunk in the first half and made a series of huge shots and free throws in the fourth quarter, when he scored 13 of his game-high 31 points — his third straight game with at least 30.
Wall also handed out nine assists to lead the Wizards to their fourth victory in the past five games.
“I think they wanted to come out here and really play some for him,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “Everybody feels some for Brad going through that right now. As they do for anybody that gets hurt.”
Wall’s last assist set up Nene for a layup that gave the Brazilian big man a new career high with 30 points and put the Wizards ahead by three.
“I feel like wine; get old, get better,” said Nene.
After having two rough games against Toronto and New York, Nene played with a fury as he attacked the basket for thunderous dunks and hit spot-up jumpers when left open.
“The only thing you can do, you can’t let nothing set you back. You’ve got to keep looking forward, keep trying to win games and play basketball,” Wall said before the game, when asked about Beal. “It’s definitely something you think about, a minor setback in our minds, but you’ve got to play another game. You’ve got a game tonight and a game tomorrow [against Milwaukee]. You’ve got to look forward and take care of what’s in front of you.”
Beal’s injury came at the same time the team welcomed back Trevor Ariza and Chris Singleton to the active list and Otto Porter Jr. started practicing.
Ariza was inserted into the starting lineup against the team that he helped win a championship in 2009. On Tuesday, he scored 13 points and added seven rebounds.
The Lakers played at a frenetic pace and the Wizards had the offensive firepower to match it, despite getting little production from the bench. The Wizards were able to hold on despite surrendering 13 three-pointers.
Martell Webster made four of the Wizards’ six three-pointers and finished with 20 points as he got the start at shooting guard in place of Beal.
Once Beal felt the pain in his leg was unmanageable, he complained, got the necessary examinations and discovered the problem was more serious than he originally thought.
“Kind of just popped up out of nowhere,” Beal said. “It’s been lingering for a week. I thought it was just calf soreness. Then it kind of escalated a little bit more.”
The timing of the injury might have been disappointing for Beal and the Wizards, because the promising second-year shooting guard is averaging 20.6 points.
But all parties involved are relieved that the ailment was caught in the early stages, which they hope will lead to a quicker recovery.
“I’m pretty sure I could probably play. I could probably duke it out,” Beal said, “but I did that last year and it didn’t work out too well.”
The injury is in the same leg that kept Beal sidelined for the final eight games last season. He wasn’t cleared for basketball-related activities until July but waited another month before he started playing five-on-five, forcing him to miss summer league and Team USA mini-camp.
His previous ailment was in the lower leg — the distal right fibula – while the current problem is higher up on the bone. Beal said the injuries aren’t related.
“It’s not the same injury as last year, it’s not a re-injury. It’s similar but in a different location in the body,” Beal said. “We didn’t want to push it and aggravate it even more. If we aggravate it, it’s just going to escalate, and escalate, and I’ll be in even more pain than I can bear.”
Beal appeared in the first 13 games this season and leads the league in minutes played (40.2 per game) and distance traveled (2.9 miles per game). “I’ve been playing nonstop, I’ve been playing a lot of minutes, so that constant stress and that pounding on my leg has been influential,” Beal said. “But I’m confident that we caught it early, which is the biggest benefit of the whole situation.”
A source close to Beal speculated that the recent leg injuries could also be a result of the 20-year-old still physically maturing. Beal actually grew an inch last summer, but he doesn’t expect the problems with his leg to become chronic.
“I’m not afraid of it escalating any higher than it is, or just recurring after this, but at the same time, I have to be prepared for it because injuries like this do happen to a lot of athletes and a lot of people,” Beal said. “If that happens, I am prepared for it mentally and if that happens, I’ll deal with it but for right now, I’m really not concerned about it.”