The Washington Wizards have absorbed another injury to one of their key players: They announced Monday that Kristaps Porzingis is week-to-week with a left ankle sprain.
Washington (20-26) plays a back-to-back against Dallas and Houston before facing New Orleans on Saturday.
“Moving better than I thought,” Unseld said when asked how Porzingis is doing. “Right now, just an ankle sprain, we’ll say week-to-week.”
For a player who arrived in Washington with a lengthy injury history, Porzingis has been a sturdy presence this season. He has missed just five games, never more than two in a row, and is averaging 22.1 points and 8.8 rebounds.
Other Wizards players haven’t been as fortunate.
Porzingis went out one game after guard Bradley Beal returned from his third extended absence of the season; he missed eight games in a nine-game stretch because of hamstring soreness that became a strain after he played 13 minutes Jan. 3 in Milwaukee.
Beal missed six games in December with a right hamstring strain and five games in November because of a nasty bout with the coronavirus.
Backup point guard Delon Wright missed 29 games over a nearly two-month span with a hamstring strain, and forward Rui Hachimura — who was traded Monday to the Los Angeles Lakers for guard Kendrick Nunn and three second-round draft picks — missed 16 games with an ankle sprain and a bone bruise.
“You’ve got to keep going. You forge through it. It’s unfortunate; you feel like every time you turn around, it’s something,” Unseld said. “But you can’t control that. This group has shown enough resilience, enough fight — even when you’re down a couple — to pick up the slack somewhere, and guys step up. It’s a good sign for our guys that we’re able to do that, but it’s certainly not ideal.”
Unseld had hoped to establish consistency with his group over a soft stretch of the schedule. After Tuesday’s game in Dallas, the Wizards face three of the four teams with the worst records in the NBA in Houston, San Antonio and Detroit. New Orleans has won just three of its past 10 games after losing star Zion Williamson to a right hamstring injury.
Washington’s core trio of Beal, Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma have played together for just 23 of 46 games this season.
The good news is that the Wizards have shown they can withstand the loss of a central player. Washington is 8-12 without Beal and 3-2 in the five games Porzingis has missed. Making up for Porzingis’s presence will be difficult, but Unseld has veteran center Taj Gibson behind usual starter Daniel Gafford.
When Porzingis has missed games, Unseld tends to start Gibson or Gafford at center, with Kuzma at power forward and Deni Avdija coming up from the bench to play small forward.
The Wizards are going to lean on Kuzma and Beal to pick up the scoring slack. In his first game back from injury, Beal scored 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting to go with four assists and four rebounds in a win Wednesday against the New York Knicks. Against Orlando on Saturday, he had 17 points, made 7 of 14 shots from the field and added eight assists and four rebounds.
“It’s going to be by committee. [Porzingis] adds a different dimension as a stretch big whether he’s at the four or the five; he opens up the floor for a lot of guys behind him. Obviously he can pick and pop, make threes,” Unseld said. “And defensively, the combination of him and [Gafford] together has been pretty good for us. We’ve got enough guys to play at a high level, but whenever you’re going to be without a marquee piece, it does affect how you play.”