There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
With the Wizards set to arrive in the Orlando in the upcoming weeks and with the July 30th start date suddenly just five weeks away, the wait is nearly over - basketball is back.
Much has happened since the NBA season was abruptly halted on March 11th due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On the court, there were rumblings that John Wall just might make his return from his surgically repaired torn Achilles during the eight game restart but that was quickly shot down. Davis Bertans, the Wizards second best player this season announced that he wouldn’t be participating in the Orlando restart as he presumably keeps his eyes on 2020 Free Agency. Off the court, not only has the virus not disappeared, but cases are spiking the very state where the NBA restart will be taking place. Various players have been apprehensive about returning to the court but according to the NBA, the show must go on.
The last time we saw the Wizards, Bradley Beal was in the midst of one of the best scoring tears of his career. In the 11 games since the All-Star Break, Beal eclipsed the 23-point mark every single night and averaged 36.5 points over that span. Washington’s historically bad defense was showing a little bit of improvement after the break but that wasn’t translating to wins as the Wizards went just 4-7 after the break and before the NBA shutdown.
Looking forward to the restart, the Wizards are up against a brutal schedule:
The Washington Wizards 8 game schedule:— Nicky Football (@ESPN580Nick) June 3, 2020
Game 1: vs Celtics
Game 2: vs OKC
Game 3: vs 76ers
Game 4: vs Nets
Game 5: vs Bucks
Game 6: vs Lakers
Game 7: vs Pelicans
Game 8: vs 76ers
For the Wizards to make the playoffs, they’ll need to make up 1.5 games over this 8-game stretch which will put them in a play-in tournament for the right to inevitably play the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs. From a sheer numbers standpoint, making up 1.5 games in eight games doesn’t seem that bad. But when you account for the gauntlet the Wizards will go through not to mention, being shorthanded, the deck is stacked against Washington to make the postseason.
Even with the brutal schedule piled on top of the fact that the Wizards will be playing short-handed, what should we expect from this team in Orlando and more importantly, what would the fanbase view as a successful trip?
The Wizards only have one game scheduled against a team not currently in the top-8 of their respective conference - the New Orleans Pelicans. One could argue that a matchup against the Brooklyn Nets is Washington’s best chance for a win. It’s possible that Washington could lose all eight games in Orlando and on their best day, two maybe three wins feels like the ceiling for the restart.
The NBA restart is exciting for a number of reasons. The obvious, it gives us something to watch while parts of the country are still cooped up in their homes. But it also gives the fanbase a similar feeling to that on the eve of a new season when optimism is still in the air. But for the Wizards, this also serves as time for everyone to step back and remember what the goals were entering this season - get the younger guys as many reps as possible to see who should be with the team longterm. Just because there was a pause towards the season, doesn’t mean the team’s goals should shift all of a sudden.
Yes, there may be nights, and potentially every game, where Scott Brooks rides Bradley Beal for 40+ minutes thinking that is what it will take to eke out a win. But the team shouldn’t lose site of getting guys like Thomas Bryant, Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr., and Isaac Bonga as many reps as possible.
One would expect that the restart in Orlando will have the feel of one of those NCAA conference tournament games in the early rounds - just in empty stadiums. That in itself will be valuable for the younger guys as it serves as a quasi play-in tournament of sorts itself.
Success for the Wizards in Orlando shouldn’t be measured in wins or losses or if they’re somehow able to sneak into the playoffs. Getting to the play-in tournament or even the playoffs would be the cherry on top. It’s just important that the team not lose site of it’s longterm goals just because of a three month pause. The younger guys getting more valuable reps is how success should be measured, and now’s not the time to lose site of the longterm plan.