Washington Wizards starting center Thomas Bryant partially tore the ACL in his left knee Saturday night, the team announced Sunday, and he is expected to miss the rest of the season.
The 23-year-old’s injury came just as he was hitting his stride in his fourth NBA season. He set career highs with 14.3 points and 27.1 minutes per game, 64.8 percent shooting from the field and 42.9 percent shooting from three-point range. His 6.1 rebounds per game rank him second on the team behind guard Russell Westbrook.
“TB’s a huge part of what we do on both ends of the floor, and he’s been playing big for us,” backup center Robin Lopez said in a videoconference after Saturday’s game. “… We love having him on the floor. I love playing with him.”
Lopez, a 13th-year veteran, probably will fill Bryant’s starting position, with third-string center Moritz Wagner backing him up. Lopez and Wagner acquitted themselves well against Miami after Bryant went down, with each scoring 13 points. Lopez had one rebound and Wagner grabbed seven going up against Heat center Bam Adebayo.
Lopez is averaging 6.0 points and 3.5 rebounds in 15.2 minutes off the bench this season. Wagner is averaging 5.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in 11.5 minutes across four games.
There is no good time for a team to lose its starting center, but Bryant’s injury means the Wizards (2-8) will be without two starters when they host the Phoenix Suns on Monday.
The team announced Sunday that Westbrook will miss his second straight game with a quadriceps injury, while guard Bradley Beal will be available after he missed Saturday’s game because of the league’s health and safety protocols related to the coronavirus.
Beal was entangled in contact tracing in accordance with the league’s protocols after coming into close contact with Boston Celtics guard Jayson Tatum on Friday night. On Saturday afternoon, Tatum became the second member of the Celtics to test positive for the coronavirus, according to the Boston Globe. The Celtics’ game against the Heat scheduled for Sunday night was postponed amid coronavirus issues on both teams’ rosters.
Beal, 27, had not tested positive as of Saturday night, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, and was cleared to play less than 24 hours later. The league’s contact tracing protocols are meant to determine whether a player comes within close contact of another player who has tested positive. Using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines, the league defines close contact as being within six feet for 15 minutes or more without a mask on.
The league has access to cameras placed around arenas as well as tracing devices that players wear to determine exposure time and distance apart on the court. Beal helped defend Tatum for a portion of the 38 minutes he played in Boston on Friday, and the league would have had to determine that he was not within six feet of the Celtics guard for 15 minutes to be eligible to play Saturday.
Teams wear masks when they’re flying and, because of a rule instituted more recently, when they’re seated on the sideline to help prevent such exposure.
Even with Beal back, Washington is still missing half of its backcourt duo.
Coach Scott Brooks said Saturday that Westbrook started feeling his injury a while ago, but Brooks said he did not think further testing such as an MRI exam would be necessary.
“[He’s] just getting treatments, just the stuff that we’ve been doing,” Brooks said before Saturday’s game. “Got hit I don’t know how long ago, then was feeling better, then, I think it was early in the [Philadelphia 76ers] game [Wednesday], he got hit again. … He’s just getting the normal treatments right now. Don’t know if that’s going to change, but I don’t think so.”
Washington has three games on its schedule this week. After facing the Western Conference-leading Suns (7-3) on Monday, the Wizards are scheduled to host the Utah Jazz (6-4) on Wednesday and visit the Detroit Pistons (2-8) on Friday.
If there is any sliver of consolation to be had for the Wizards, it’s that the team finally found some semblance of a spark off the bench over the weekend. The second unit helped fuel a fourth-quarter comeback that fell just short in Boston on Friday, and the bench accounted for 69 points in the close loss to Miami on Saturday.
“It’s a silver lining. Everybody gets an opportunity, and a lot of guys got major minutes tonight,” Brooks said after Saturday’s game. “... It was a tough night with also Thomas Bryant and having no Brad and no Russell. We still battled and played against one of the best teams down to the wire.”