Washington’s next game Wednesday is the real deal. The team will fly to Toronto for its season opener — and Coach Wes Unseld Jr.’s first official game calling the shots.
Here’s what you need to know from the Wizards’ preseason finale:
Beal exits early
Beal played just nine minutes before heading to the bench and eventually being ruled out with a right knee contusion. The guard was 2 for 4 from the field for five points, including 1 for 2 from the three-point line, and he had two assists.
Unseld said after the game that Beal’s injury did not seem severe but the team will see how he feels Saturday.
Beal, who is not vaccinated against the coronavirus, was permitted to play in New York on Friday, and he will be able to take the court against the Raptors and Golden State Warriors because of an exemption to municipal ordinances that allow visiting NBA players who are not inoculated to play. Vaccination mandates in New York, Toronto and San Francisco affect only host players in those cities.
Wizards’ depth on display
One of the Wizards’ major goals in their roster overhaul this offseason was adding shooters so Beal would no longer have to empty his tank nightly just to keep his team afloat on the offensive end.
So far, Washington’s added depth is paying off. Beal’s dry spell from the third preseason game, in which he shot 1 for 11 from the field, carried over into the first half before he exited.
Dinwiddie and Holiday compensated for Beal’s absence, with Neto adding his offensive burst later (on 10-for-13 shooting from the field).
That should hearten Unseld for a few reasons.
The coach can’t expect Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma to combine for 11 three-pointers every time Beal has an off night or exits a game, which is what happened against the Raptors earlier this week. On Friday, Holiday and Dinwiddie combined for 29 first-half points in a much less flashy — and perhaps more reliable — fashion.
Holiday, not viewed as one of Washington’s key offensive threats, made 6 of 10 attempts from the field. And Dinwiddie’s points didn’t just come from crafty isolation plays, as is his specialty — the point guard also found his share of quality open looks from long range, hitting 3 of 6 from three. Neto, as he proved last year in his first season with the Wizards, can be a huge asset on both offense and defense when he gets hot; he put forth perhaps the most effort of anyone on the roster Friday.
The variety of scorers who have stepped up in place of Beal over two games and the varied ways in which they contributed offensively should bode well for the Wizards.
Gafford shows range
Daniel Gafford had 17 rebounds against Toronto earlier this week, which would have been a career high if the game counted. The center said his success at the rim came because he was a bit more patient and composed on defense compared with the first two preseason games.
Gafford’s improved rim protection looked promising for a player who often showed off only a couple of aspects of his game last year — his ability to slam home lobs and his ability to put up monster blocks. The big man showed even more range Friday with 12 points on 4-for-8 shooting from the field that included one particularly pretty jumper from just inside the three-point line, 10 rebounds and four blocks. He also got to the free throw line a handful of times but made just 4 of 8.
Gafford, 23, has focused on his conditioning over the summer so he can play expanded minutes. Unseld has to feel optimistic about his growth potential at this point.