The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Wizards will enter NBA bubble with playoff hopes and lingering uncertainty

Coach Scott Brooks and the Wizards have some ground to make up to reach the postseason. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

After weeks of regular testing for the novel coronavirus, one-on-one workouts conducted in a half-empty facility and, for at least one player, a last-minute dash to CVS, the Washington Wizards are finally ready to enter the NBA’s bubble.

The Wizards are set to board a chartered flight Tuesday to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando in preparation for the league’s July 30 restart.

“I feel like Noah’s ark: I just got two of everything,” guard Ish Smith said of his CVS run in preparation for what will be at least a six-week stay in Florida. “… I ain’t no pretty boy, but I want to make sure that I look presentable so my mom and dad don’t disown me.”

Along with Smith’s stockpile of toiletries, all-star guard Bradley Beal will be traveling with the team — though he still hasn’t decided whether he will play — but point guard John Wall and forward Davis Bertans will watch from home as Washington tries to make the most of eight additional regular season games and push its way into the playoffs.

Beal’s decision will come down to conditioning, Coach Scott Brooks said during a virtual news conference Monday. It has been nearly four months since the league shut down because of the pandemic, longer than a normal NBA offseason, and Washington’s leading scorer has concerns about injuries resulting from playing too hard too soon.

“It’s all going to be predicated on testing and also conditioning,” Brooks said of Beal. “Knock on wood that we’re all going to go down there and stay healthy and play games."

The Lakers and Bucks, disrupted NBA contenders, don’t want to hear any asterisk talk

Bertans, the Wizards’ best long-range shooter and a soon-to-be free agent of high value, erred on the side of caution and decided to sit out the restart. Sending Wall, who is still coming back from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon suffered in early 2019, wouldn’t have been an efficient use of the limited spots the Wizards have in their traveling party.

The NBA is allowing the 22 teams invited into its bubble to bring a maximum of 35 people in an effort to limit the spread of the virus. Although the league has detailed thorough testing policies for all players, team staff members and media traveling to the bubble, everyone touching down in the Orlando area in the next few days will be entering a coronavirus epicenter.

New cases in Florida exceeded 10,000 in a single day Sunday for the third time in four days, following a state record high of 11,458 on Saturday.

On Thursday, the NBA announced that 25 of 351 players had tested positive since leaguewide testing began June 23. Of 884 team staff members tested between June 23 and June 29, 10 tested positive. Several teams, including the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Clippers and Brooklyn Nets, have closed their practice facilities in recent days after members of their traveling parties received positive tests.

Still, Brooks and Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard have expressed trust in the NBA’s ability to keep those within the bubble healthy.

“Once we get down to Orlando, I’m assuming, and I hope — with all the stuff that I’m reading, and the NBA has given us all the Zoom calls — we’re probably going to be in one of the safest places in the country,” Brooks said Monday.

Each member of the Wizards’ traveling party will be tested twice within the first 36 hours after arrival Tuesday, during which time the Wizards will remain quarantined in individual hotel rooms. They will be allowed to leave after 36 hours only if both tests come back negative.

After that, the on-court work begins.

Washington’s goals in Florida are twofold: to make the playoffs and to use the regular season games to develop the team’s many young players. Doing both at once will be tricky, especially if the Wizards (24-40) are without both Bertans and Beal.

What to do with the eight teams left out of Orlando? Inside the NBA’s ‘second bubble’ dilemma.

Washington was the last team invited to the bubble and sits 5½ games behind the eighth-place Orlando Magic (30-35) and six games behind the seventh-place Nets (30-34) in the Eastern Conference. The Wizards must be within four games of the No. 8 seed at the end of the regular season to force a play-in round for a chance to qualify for the playoffs, which are set to begin in mid-August.

“Can we get better in that short amount of time?” Beal said in a virtual news conference Wednesday. “I think that’ll probably be the biggest question. … I think it’s possible. I will say it’ll be a challenge because of the way everything is kind of set up. That’s kind of where my decision-making is kind of playing into it, too, because we can’t play five-on-five until we get to Orlando. Okay, so now you’re saying we only have two weeks to really, fully get in basketball shape until we have to ball out to make a playoff push. It’s a little tough.”

The Wizards aren’t the only members of Monumental Basketball readying to resume their season. The reigning WNBA champion Washington Mystics flew commercial to Florida on Monday in preparation for the 2020 season, which will take place at IMG Academy in Bradenton.

The WNBA has not yet released a schedule or a start date for its shortened 22-game season, during which teams will also live in a bubblelike community. The Mystics will be without starting forward LaToya Sanders and starting guard Natasha Cloud, both of whom opted out of playing this season, as they try to defend their title.

The WNBA announced Monday that of 137 players tested between June 28 and Sunday, seven tested positive for the coronavirus.

Read more on the NBA:

LeBron James’s ‘Decision’ defined a decade of player movement

Brewer: The Wizards drafted John Wall 10 years ago. Look at how he has grown.

Wizards, Mystics players lead Juneteenth protest of bigotry and police brutality