WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 110-93 at Capital One Arena on Thursday night. Here are five observations from what went down...
Undermanned, but a win
In what has become the NBA's third consecutive season dramatically affected by the coronavirus pandemic, Thursday night's game represented the league's new and current reality. Both the Wizards and Cavaliers were missing a host of key players in health and safety protocol. While each team was patched together in part with replacement players, they were both in the same boat, so it was an even match.
They actually played a good game of basketball, to their credit, one the Wizards were able to win largely thanks to the return of Bradley Beal (29 points) from protocol and a big night from Kyle Kuzma, who stepped up to fill the void with 25 points. The Wizards snapped a two-game losing skid with the win.
The Wizards were missing Spencer Dinwiddie, who entered protocol earlier on Thursday, plus other key contributors like Montrezl Harrell, Raul Neto, Aaron Holiday and Davis Bertans (non-COVID illness). The Cavs were without Jarrett Allen, Darius Garland, Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio.
The Wizards, though, were able to come out on top and take a 2-1 lead in the season series. While Cleveland is far ahead of them in the standings currently, that could be advantageous when playoff seeds are determined.
Washington is now 18-17 on the year overall. This game was the first of a stretch where the Wizards will play 12 of 14 games at home.
There was also a historic moment in this game worth mentioning. Jaime Echenique made his NBA debut to become the first NBA player ever from the country of Colombia.
The Wizards were still missing a lot of players, basically half their roster, but they did get a few back including Beal, their top scorer and leader. Beal missed three games in protocols, but hit the ground running in his return with a big night against the Cavs. He had 21 points in the first half and finished the game with 10 assists and six rebounds.
It wasn't just the numbers, Beal looked sharp, not like a guy who had to quarantine away from the team. Sure, it helps to have a full basketball court inside your home, but it's not like Beal was playing 5-on-5 against his NBA teammates. It's a good sign, too, because Beal was playing really well before he had to sit out. The Wizards had been waiting for him to find his rhythm all season and his brief absence seemed to come at a bad time in that regard.
Beal shot 13-for-23 overall and 2-for-5 from three. His best play was arguably this move to shake Lauri Markkanen for a pull-up jumper at the free throw line:
Gafford was tough
Daniel Gafford's life was made a little easier with the Cavs not only missing Allen, but his pick-and-roll partners. But they still had Evan Mobley Jr. (21 points) and Markkanen (11 points), plus Kevin Love (24 points) in their frontcourt, so Gafford had his work cut out for him. He came through with a big game on the defensive end of five blocks and nine rebounds go go along with 11 points.
Gafford had five blocks in just 16 minutes in the first half. He had four blocks in the second quarter alone. He also altered many more, all while staying out of foul trouble. He made a major difference and was a big reason why the Wizards were able to win this game so short-handed. The reason why Gafford slowed down blocking shots in the second half may have had something to do with the fact he had a minor leg injury that required him to go to the locker room. He came back, but could have been playing through some pain.
When your team is missing half the rotation, including multiple players at the same position, it helps to have someone with the versatility of Deni Avdija. The 20-year-old did just about everything in this game and that including playing point guard on offense while also playing center on defense during extended stretches. They were missing point guards and centers, so why not have him play both?
Avdija made plays in both roles, too, and did a nice job setting up the Wizards' offense, in particular. He just didn't shoot well, as he went 5-for-12 from the field and 1-for-5 from three. He missed a series of good looks, ones he usually can knock down. It wasn't his night shooting the ball, but then again, it's hard to complain given what the Wizards were asking of him. Avdija had 13 points and six boards.
With Dinwiddie out, the Wizards started Brad Wanamaker at point guard, just one day after Wanamaker signed with the team on a 10-day hardship exemption contract. You can only imagine how much he knows of the playbook at this point, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Wanamaker at least has four years of NBA experience and had played some for the Pacers this season. He scored seven points, dished seven assists and grabbed five rebounds.
With Beal, Caldwell-Pope and Gill back from protocols, the question is who is next. Head coach Wes Unseld Jr. didn't know when asked about that pregame, as it all depends on who can test negative twice 24 hours apart. But based on the order of who was placed in protocol, Neto would be next followed by Holiday, Harrell and Rui Hachimura. We'll see about Dinwiddie, who did say on media day he is vaccinated.