WASHINGTON -- Stop me if you've heard this before: Someone critical to a team's success gets sidelined early and the season suddenly looks to be in jeopardy.
Sound familiar? It should for us Washington Wizards fans because it's happened. But let's keep going on a journey to the Verizon Center, where the season didn't sink without Bradley Beal for the first three weeks. Turns out, the Wizards came out of this chapter swimmingly.
After being sidelined for the first nine games, Beal checked in to a standing ovation with 4:53 left in the first quarter of Wednesday's game against the Dallas Mavericks. The Wizards wound up losing, which is obviously a point not to overlook even against a quality opponent.
But the point of Wednesday night wasn't the result. It's that the season for the Wizards can really start now.
It's important to recognize that the return of Beal, who went on to score 21 points in the loss, is instrumental in the macro-picture for the team's season being successful. Equally important: the macro-picture of the individuals who held down the fort without him.
"In order to win, we've got to stick together and be confident in ourselves and know going into a game that we're going to win," Beal said, praising his teammates' play without him on the court for the beginning of the season.
Having a bench that is able to vibe together when the starters are off -- whether that's off the court or off their game -- is crucial to the long-term success of any NBA team.
Without Beal, the Wizards' bench players have seen significant time and helped keep the team afloat, albeit against mostly average teams. They've established a rhythm and shown the Wizards can and will be able to hang with the best in the league.
Garrett Temple had a shaky night Wednesday, but still had a fairly good stretch of play this season and proved he could hit threes before his wrist injury. So did Rasual Butler, who never started during Beal's absence, but saw an increase in minutes played as the games went on. His back-to-back 3-pointers late in the first half left the arena shaking. He only played seven minutes, but is 17-23 shooting in his last four games.
Other bench players like Kris Humphries and Otto Potter have been steady as reserves all year. And with Beal back, the Wizards can now add Temple, who logged starter minutes, to the bench mix.
In the short term, Beal's absence hurt.
In time, being without him made the Wizards better.