The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Wizards were hoping for a shot. Under the NBA’s plan, they would get it.

The Washington Wizards are expected to resume play in July. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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When the NBA stopped and daily routines no longer mattered as much, the Washington Wizards remained vigilant, preparing for a return-to-play date that wasn’t promised to them.

The team sat 5½ games back of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference but still held workouts over Zoom. Developmental coaches paired with players for ballhandling drills, and the team made mental health experts available for players navigating a strange, new normal.

During the shutdown, the Wizards reached out to players, too. And in those discussions, the roster overwhelmingly agreed that if there was a passage to the playoffs, they didn’t want to toss away the season. Instead, players wanted an opportunity to compete.

The Wizards (24-40) are expected to see their wish granted. The NBA has advanced a return-to-play scenario in which 22 teams will be invited to resume play near Orlando beginning July 31, according to people familiar with the plan.

NBA’s return-to-play plan takes shape before Thursday vote

On Thursday, the league’s Board of Governors is expected to vote on the format. The Wizards are in ninth place in the East and would get eight additional regular season games and a pathway to making the playoffs under the proposal.

When the league suspended the season March 11 after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus, Washington sat 5½ games behind the Orlando Magic. Overtaking the Magic, which swept the Wizards in four regular season meetings, seemed like a long shot.

Without knowing how they would be impacted by the league’s return-to-play plan, the Wizards decided not to recall every player back to Washington for voluntary workouts, which finally began Friday.

Still, the Wizards wanted a chance.

In April and May, the team made calls to players to get their perspective. While Washington did not cast a vote on the matter, the feeling was evident: The Wizards wanted in.

Making the playoffs probably would require two steps. First, the Wizards would either need to move up into the top eight seeds or close within four games of the eighth seed. Otherwise, they would be eliminated. If they finish the eight games in the eighth or ninth seed, they would enter a play-in round in which the eighth seed would advance with a single victory and the ninth seed would need two consecutive wins.

In the most likely scenario, Washington as the ninth seed would need to win two games against Orlando or the Brooklyn Nets. From there, it would advance to a first-round matchup with the East’s top seed, which probably will be the Milwaukee Bucks with reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Wizards cautiously return to voluntary workouts

On Friday, the Wizards’ practice facility buzzed with activity for the first time in months as players returned for individual workouts after the District began Phase 1 of its reopening plan. The Wizards were one of the last teams in the NBA to receive permission from its local government to resume workouts.

Seven players have participated in the truncated workouts and weightlifting sessions. Four players are allowed inside the facility at a time — two on opposite sides of the court and two practicing social distancing in the weight room.

Though the Wizards’ facility is open, all-star Bradley Beal is continuing his individual workouts at home, where he has a basketball court and weight room. At the team facility in Southeast Washington, players operate on a time limit so the site can undergo an hour of deep cleaning before the next group arrives. Even so, Beal is expected to return to the Wizards’ facility Friday.

John Wall, the five-time all-star point guard, also has opted to work out at home. Although Wall has completed 16 months of rehabilitation from an Achilles’ injury and says he feels “110 percent healthy,” he will not return to the lineup when the Wizards are expected to resume play in Orlando.

If the NBA’s plan is approved Thursday, then the team will inform its players who are out of market to make their way back to Washington.

Ben Golliver contributed to this report.

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