Saturday was supposed to be a step in the right direction for Bradley Beal. He ditched the mask that he had to wear after breaking his nose on Jan. 25 and was finally back in the Washington Wizards’ starting lineup for their bout with the Indiana Pacers after playing a reserve role the previous 10 games because the team believed it was the best way to utilize him while he’s on a minutes limit.
He helped the Wizards record 64 first-half points in the crucial matchup between teams vying for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Then the evening went askew.
The fourth-year sharpshooter exited with 6 minutes 17 seconds left in third quarter of the Wizards’ 100-99 loss, after falling hard on his right hip when he met Pacers big man Myles Turner at the basket mid-air. Beal remained on the floor in agony for a couple minutes and needed assistance walking off to the locker room.
Beal, 22, was diagnosed with a sprained pelvis and didn’t return, finishing 12 points on 5-of-13 shooting in 24 minutes. He declined to speak to the media after the game and the team didn’t have an update on his status on Sunday. A restricted free agent this summer who will seek a max contract projected to pay approximately $21 million next season, Beal has missed 21 games this season because of a shoulder injury, a stress reaction in his right fibula and a concussion.
“It’s tough,” Wizards point guard John Wall said. “I know he’s frustrated, he’s been coming off the bench most of the time he’s been back and putting a lot of work in to come back and be healthy and help this team make a final playoff push.”
Washington’s second-leading scorer, Beal is expected to travel with the team to Portland Monday for Washington’s three-game road trip, but whether he will play Tuesday against the Trail Blazers is uncertain.
“I always think positive, not negative,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. “He’s going to be with us.”
Garrett Temple would likely return to the starting lineup if Beal is ruled out. Temple tallied 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting in 26 minutes Saturday, after shooting 24.6 percent from the field, 24.1 percent from three-point range, and 58.3 percent from the free-throw line in his 10 starts since the break.
Gary Neal, another option at the two-guard slot, missed his 12th straight game Saturday with a right leg injury that he described as neurological. But the team, he said, was still unsure exactly what is wrong.
The firepower Washington holds with Beal in the starting lineup was evident Saturday as the Wizards scored 37 points in the first quarter. Without Beal for most of the second half, Washington tallied just 35 points in the entire second half.
“We had gotten off to such slow starts the last couple games, I think we were down 12 in the first quarter in Minnesota,” Wittman said, referring to the Wizards’ win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday, when asked for his rationale in starting Beal. “Just trying to get a better start and we did.”
Without Beal in the second half Saturday, the Wizards relied more heavily on Wall, who shot just 3 of 15 from the field after halftime. He finished with 24 points on 9-of-24 shooting, 12 assists, six rebounds, and seven turnovers in 39 minutes. The burden on Wall will only amplify Tuesday if Beal is held out against the high-scoring Trail Blazers, who feature one of the league’s premier offensive back courts in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, with the Wizards two games under .500 again and 1.5 games behind the Chicago Bulls for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot.
“It’s not really about the three coming up, it’s about having the tiebreaker against them,” Wall said Saturday. “We would’ve been a half-game behind them, but if we had won this game we really would have been a game ahead of them because we would have the tiebreaker. It’s a situation where there was an opportunity for us to take advantage of.”
The Wizards are idle Sunday before traveling to Portland on Monday to practice before facing the Trail Blazers on Tuesday. Portland is one of the league’s biggest surprises. They currently sit in seventh place in the Western Conference at 33-30 and are 18-6 since Jan. 10.
This post first published at 11:40 p.m. Saturday night. It has since been updated.