The Eastern Conference standings are a disaster. Six teams - separated by merely a few wins - are clawing for two spots at home court advantage in the first round.
Washington’s chances at getting one of those spots appeared to be all but finished after John Wall had to undergo a knee procedure in late January. Thankfully for Washington, Bradley Beal slid into the leadership role, becoming a bona fide scoring machine - equipped with a stepback 3-point shot, a go-to turnaround jumper in the paint, and the confidence to run the offense as a primary ball handler.
But embedded in the crevices of all these positive pixels is fear. The team has - once again - relied too heavily on a single player to stay afloat in the standings. As the Wizards have sparred with the Cavaliers and Pacers for the third and fourth seed, Beal’s minutes have continued to mount at concerning levels.
When the Wizards were battling for playoff positioning in 2016, Beal said Randy Wittman would forget how much playing time he was giving Beal, failing to realize that Beal had missed 19 games the season prior and 27 in 2016. Once he returned from a setback in 2016, he expressed concern that he would have to have a minutes restriction for the rest of his career after dealing with multiple stress reactions in his legs.
Wittman was let go at the end of that season and replaced by Scott Brooks. Since that time, Brooks has either become privy to new information to suggest Beal no longer needs a minute restriction, or else he’s falling into the same traps as his predecessor.
Beal is playing a career-high 36.7 minutes per game this season. Since the All-Star break he’s averaging 38.7 minutes per game, the second-most in the league. Over the past five games, he has been on the court an absurd amount - 39.3 minutes per game. In the last two games, he’s gotten just 10 minutes of rest - combined.
The problem is, Washington’s alternatives just aren’t producing. Jodie Meeks, who wasn’t pleased with his role before the trade deadline, played just 10 minutes in a grueling overtime game against the Heat. Ramon Sessions played for the first time on Tuesday and was a -17 in 13 minutes of play. Tim Frazier got a DNP-CD on Tuesday after receiving an increase in minutes.
None of Washington’s options are ideal, but Brooks will have to start leaning on his backup guards more - or demand a better option from Ernie Grunfeld in order to reduce Beal’s workload. Brooks said he needed to do a better job of getting Beal some rest after the Wizards’ loss to the Pacers on Sunday, but wound up playing Beal 38 minutes in regulation the next game, and then played him five more minutes when the game went to overtime.
Beal’s workload is simply too much for anyone at this point in the season, let alone a player with his injury history. If the Wizards want to make a serious run when Wall returns, they’ll have to start protecting Beal - because even if he doesn’t get hurt, Brooks runs the risk of running Beal into the ground before his other All-Star is ready to get back on the floor.