Even so, Sunday’s loss didn’t smart as much as it might have in any other year. The Wizards had middling expectations after their long, outbreak-induced layoff, with good effort and sustaining energy through four quarters toward the top of Coach Scott Brooks’s list of priorities.
“I have no complaints tonight,” Brooks said on a videoconference afterward. “Other than, you know, you don’t want to go into a game and lose. So that hurts. It’s going to be a late night for coaches, but our guys competed. I’m proud of them.”
Bradley Beal predictably led with 31 points on 13-for-29 shooting in 32 minutes — slightly fewer points than what he has been logging this season — and had seven rebounds and four assists.
He was one of only two full-time starters available.
The other, fellow all-star guard Russell Westbrook, had missed even more time than the rest of his teammates. The point guard returned from a left quadriceps injury he suffered in training camp to play for the first time since Jan. 8 with only rookie Cassius Winston to back him up. Backup point guard Raul Neto was out with a groin strain.
Westbrook, who played just 25 minutes by design, looked as if he could have used more time to heal. The guard had eight rebounds and six assists but scored just nine points on 3-for-11 shooting from the field, ceding scoring duties to Beal, guard Jerome Robinson and newcomer Alex Len, the eighth-year center out of Maryland whom the team signed Saturday.
“He’s healthy, but he’s not 100 percent basketball-wise,” Brooks said of Westbrook. “If you haven’t played in a while, it takes a while. You can’t just turn the switch on.”
Considering its short roster, Washington hung with the Spurs admirably until the fourth quarter — even if the outcome never seemed in doubt.
Beal and Westbrook started alongside Robinson, Isaac Bonga and Robin Lopez and got the Wizards off to a fine start that Robinson and guard Garrison Mathews kept alive with bombs from the three-point line. Robinson finished with 16 points on 6-for-15 shooting, and Mathews had a trio of threes to finish with nine points.
Lopez had seven rebounds and just one block but was far more effective on defense under the rim than his stat line showed in 24 minutes, time Brooks was keeping an eye on because Sunday was the first of three games in four nights for Washington this week. Len, Lopez’s new 7-foot backup, had 11 points and five rebounds.
The Spurs led just 48-47 at halftime, but San Antonio controlled the game in the third quarter and eventually pulled away, easily exploiting some moments of confusion for the Wizards’ defense, to finally crack a double-digit lead early in the fourth quarter.
Seven Spurs players scored in double figures, with guard Patty Mills leading the way with 21 points off the bench.
The Wizards next play at Houston on Tuesday in their first game against John Wall since they traded the point guard to the Rockets in December. They will be shorthanded then as well, with Deni Avdija, Davis Bertans, Troy Brown Jr., Rui Hachimura, Ish Smith and Moe Wagner still expected to be in the coronavirus protocol.
Brooks said Sunday that a few players who tested positive have begun working out, though they probably will not join the team on this three-game road trip. While the coach sounded optimistic after the game, Beal and Westbrook appeared more downtrodden about the arduous task that lies ahead: working 10 healthy players back into tiptop shape and reintegrating six more later in the season, all on different timelines.
Asked about his outlook for the rest of the year, Beal sighed before responding.
“I don’t really know. It’s always next man up; you take it for what it is. This whole season in its entirety is just weird, you know. It’s not normal,” Beal said. “Like, I just got done getting tested after the game. That’s not normal. So everything is just weird. Granted, we’ve got a lot of guys out right now, a couple guys hurt. We’re kind of doing a lot of things on the fly, but it just creates opportunities for more guys.”