How’s this for funky: In the Wizards’ first game since March 10, they tipped off against a Denver starting lineup that featured three centers and whose shortest player was 6-foot-7 Paul Millsap. The Nuggets, who had to make do without a few of their usual players who had just completed the league-mandated quarantine in Florida, beat Washington, 89-82, in Wednesday’s 40-minute scrimmage.
“Definitely will probably go down as the largest lineup ever,” Wizards Coach Scott Brooks said. “It was very unique.”
Things were different for Washington as well, with forward Davis Bertans and an injured Bradley Beal (right rotator cuff) sitting at home while their teammates played the first of three tuneups before they resume the regular season July 31. Beal even offered a tip via a midgame tweet: “Great D so far! Must attack the zone, be ready to shoot!!” he wrote.
Both teams looked as rusty as you would expect after more than four months away from the court. With Beal and Bertans missing, forwards Troy Brown Jr. and Rui Hachimura stood out for the Wizards.
Hachimura led all scorers with 18 points and had a team-high nine rebounds, doing well to knife his way through the seams of Denver’s zone defense and get to his most comfortable spots for midrange jumpers. But Brown, who started alongside point guard Shabazz Napier, forward Isaac Bonga, Hachimura and center Thomas Bryant, impacted the game the most.
The second-year pro stepped into a role as facilitator, working anywhere the Wizards needed him in the second half, and filled up the stat sheet with 12 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals. His confidence in his game was evident, and in the virtual news conference after the game, he spoke about the challenge of having to step up without Beal on the floor and dealing with the long layoff.
“You have to adjust to that. Right now, with my game, it’s more about feeling out what the team needs. For example, I had a really good first half, and I realized Ish [Smith] was going crazy in the second half, and I was like: ‘Okay, we need a board. We need rebounds. Ish can handle the offense,’ ” Brown said. “I need to rebound the basketball. So it’s more figuring out what we need in order to win because for me, personally, I feel like I can kind of pick and choose aspects of the game, focus on those and make sure that position is secure.”
Brooks echoed the forward, adding that his decision-making will come along in time as Brown gets used to his increased responsibility.
The biggest nitpick Brooks had about Wednesday's scrimmage was the Wizards' shooting percentage. Washington shot 36.5 percent from the field and 26.5 percent from three against a lengthy Denver defense.
“The thing that we didn’t do, we didn’t make shots,” Brooks said. “I thought we had a lot of great looks … but overall, I’m very pleased with our energy, our effort, our teamwork.”
For the first time in nearly five months — as different as things looked — Brooks and his players were simply happy to be back.
“There’s no way you can make it like an NBA arena, but the players love to play,” Brooks said. “We miss it. We miss playing basketball. I miss being around the guys. I miss coaching. We could be outside. We could play anywhere. We could be in a garage. We could be in a driveway. I don’t care. I want to be able to coach this team, and this team wants to play.”
Guard Troy Daniels led Denver with 22 points. Starting centers Nikola Jokic and Bol Bol, the son of former Washington Bullets center Manute, had 16 points each. It was Bol’s pro debut.
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