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Wizards welcome back Thomas Bryant and take care of the Magic

What to know from Washington’s 112-106 win

Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma gets fouled as he shoots over Orlando's Robin Lopez during Washington's win Wednesday. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

On a frigid morning last week in Chicago, Spencer Dinwiddie sat courtside after shoot-around and repeated what his doctors told him after the first major injury of his life, when he fully tore his left ACL and medial collateral ligament in college. It’s a common mantra told to athletes coming back from all manner of major physical trauma.

“You can either be better or worse, but you won’t be the same,” Dinwiddie said. “Stop searching for same.”

On Wednesday night in a 112-106 win against the Orlando Magic at Capital One Arena, Thomas Bryant was determined to prove himself the exception to the doctor’s rule.

The center’s first field goal in his first game — 368 days after tearing his ACL — was his signature shot, a smooth corner three-pointer that made it look as though no time had passed since the 24-year-old’s career was temporarily upended.

He scored six points, grabbed one rebound and made a sharp assist to Deni Avdija in the paint for an assist in 11 minutes, a brief season debut that drew enthusiastic cheers when Bryant first checked in.

“It was great. I couldn’t help but smile, and I tried not to smile when I was out there,” Bryant said. “Just to be here and hear that again, it just brings back memories. Also prepares me to make new ones.”

Bryant might have looked the same to the untrained eye, but the Wizards (22-20) did not. Joining the center on the court was Dinwiddie, who played on the second night of a back-to-back for the first time this season because a full year had finally passed since he had surgery to repair the second ACL tear of his career. And there was Rui Hachimura, on the court for the third time this season after coming back from personal leave.

In the 42nd game of the season, the Wizards were nearly whole — the exception being Bradley Beal, who missed a second straight game while in the NBA’s coronavirus protocols.

Beal’s return from his second stint this season in the protocols will complicate matters for Coach Wes Unseld Jr. no matter how much the team looks forward to getting back its centerpiece. Balancing Hachimura and Bryant’s integration while keeping rotations efficient will be a difficult task, no doubt. Solving that puzzle will eventually involve a conversation with Unseld’s three centers: Bryant, starter Daniel Gafford and backup Montrezl Harrell.

“It’s going to be challenging. He gives us a different look, but just like with Rui, we’ll ease [Bryant] into it. The short stretches that we’ll have to work around don’t make that any easier, but it’s for his benefit,” Unseld said.

“There are no expectations right now — just see what he can do, see how he pairs with the other four players on the floor. We’ll take it day by day. At some point, we’ll have a conversation with those three bigs. At times, I think we could play them together — not all three, but two of the three together — but just like the rest of the roster, as we get whole, minutes may change.”

Unseld deployed 11 players Wednesday against the Magic (7-35) and the offense flourished, shooting 52.4 percent while committing just 10 turnovers and scoring 58 points in the paint. The defense was livelier for longer stretches than it was Sunday, the last time these teams met.

Kyle Kuzma led the WIzards with 19 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Dinwiddie had 17 points and four assists, and Harrell added 16 points off the bench.

The Wizards did well limiting Terrence Ross, who gave them trouble on Sunday. The guard had 17 points. Cole Anthony led with 19.

Here’s what else to know about Wednesday’s game:

Locker room scuffle

One potential piece of evidence that the Wizards already have too many cooks in the kitchen? A disagreement between Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope that boiled over at halftime during Tuesday’s game.

The Athletic reported Tuesday that Harrell and Caldwell-Pope needed to be separated during a physical altercation that occurred on the way to the locker room. As the clock ran out before halftime against Oklahoma City, Harrell stood wide open near the basket and Caldwell-Pope did not pass to him. Washington went into the locker room trailing 61-58.

“It happens every now and then, but like I said it’s not anything worth commenting on or making a big deal of,” Unseld said of the scuffle. “It’s one of those things where guys are competitive and our focus, once again, was ‘Let’s turn around that first half and do what we can to be better.’ I thought we saw that with the way we played.”

Tuesday was Harrell’s return to the court after missing seven games in the protocols. He remained active in team discussions throughout his time away, texting teammates encouragement and observations while watching games at home.

“We played OKC, we came out with a game plan, we won the game,” Harrell said. “Next question.”

Vaccine requirement

Washington’s next home game, against Portland on Saturday, will be the first at Capital One Arena played with Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s citywide vaccine mandate in effect. Anyone 12 and older wishing to attend a Wizards game will be required to show they’ve had at least one shot of an approved coronavirus vaccine. On Feb. 15, anyone 12 and over wishing to attend a game will have to demonstrate that they’ve had “a full initial course” of an approved vaccine, which does not include booster shots.

Capital One Arena recommends that patrons use the CLEAR Health Pass app for electronic verification, though a picture or hard copy of a vaccine card along with a photo ID will be accepted.

Here’s what else you need to know about D.C.'s vaccine requirement.