In a statement, the NBA said the game is being postponed “due to the number of unavailable players for the Wizards, contact tracing for other players on their roster, and the length of time preceding the game during which the team was unable to practice,” justification for a scratch the league had not previously used.
No team has missed more games than the Wizards just one month into the season. Their next scheduled contest is in San Antonio on Sunday.
Guard Bradley Beal, the team representative for the players’ association, said in a virtual news conference after Wednesday’s practice — a session that amounted to an extended shoot-around, given the lack of players — that he and fellow all-star Russell Westbrook planned to talk to National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts about the schedule.
“I have the luxury of having a basketball gym and weight room in my house, so I’m able to get work in, but not everybody has that luxury,” Beal said. “A lot of my teammates don’t have that luxury. We weren’t able to get into the gym for a week. That alters guys’ rhythm, shape. That’s just a recipe for injury.”
Washington learned Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. it had enough eligible players to take the court as a group for the first time since a Jan. 11 win over the Phoenix Suns and squeezed in an evening practice. After more than a week-long layoff, Brooks did not want to rush his players back into a full-speed practice for fear of injury, nor did he have enough bodies to run one.
Beal would have been the lone full-time starter available Friday. Guard Raul Neto, guard Jerome Robinson, wing Isaac Bonga, center Robin Lopez, forward Anthony Gill and two-way players Garrison Mathews and Cassius Winston also practiced Wednesday. Although the postponement won’t bring the Wizards back to full strength, it will give the healthy players extra time to ramp up their conditioning and prepare.
Six players tested positive for the coronavirus and will have to quarantine for 10 to 14 days depending on when they first tested positive, according to league protocols.
Starting wing Deni Avdija, starting forward Rui Hachimura, forward Davis Bertans, guard Troy Brown, guard Ish Smith and center Moe Wagner have entered the league’s health and safety protocols. Westbrook, who missed the Wizards’ two most recent games with a left quadriceps injury, will travel on the Wizards’ upcoming trip, but Coach Scott Brooks is unsure when he will return to play.
Brooks said Westbrook is “progressing toward basketball activities” but the team does not want to rush his return.
“It’s not an ideal situation. It’s great to be back. I do miss the players, I miss talking to you guys daily, but yeah,” Brooks said via video conference, before the game was postponed. “We haven’t practiced in nine days, and I wouldn’t even consider today a practice. . . . We had eight guys. It wasn’t much, but we did the best we can.”
Complicating matters is that the Wizards are not stepping gingerly back into league play. Washington’s next scheduled game is Sunday against San Antonio — the start of a three-game road trip in four days that also includes games at Houston and New Orleans before it returns to Capital One Arena for a Jan. 29 bout against Atlanta.
The league now has to reschedule games against Milwaukee, Utah, Detroit, Charlotte and Cleveland (two) at some point during a condensed second half of the season, but both Beal and Brooks spoke passionately about the dangers of rushing back to a regular schedule.
“We don’t have a blueprint for this. We had an entire team that was out for nine days. We haven’t practiced, and the last thing I want to do is put our players in a position where they’re going to be susceptible for injury,” Brooks said when asked what the team could do to mitigate injury risk. “ … I’ve never had a situation where we haven’t had nine days of practice. I mean, that’s a long time. … I definitely worry going forward because these are our healthy guys, and the conditioning is definitely behind the teams that we’re going to be play.”
Brooks also noted that the one Wizards staff member who tested positive Monday received a false positive result and has tested negative every day since.