The Washington Wizards lost to the Denver Nuggets 113-108 on Thursday night. Here are five observations from the game...
1. On the day the NCAA Tournament truly began with its Round of 64, the Washington Wizards put another nail in the coffin of their playoff hopes. If it wasn't clear already, it is now: good draft lottery odds are not only more realistic than the playoffs, but the more prudent goal.
The Wizards lost to the Denver Nuggets and have now dropped four of five. They are five games out of a playoff spot with only nine left to play.
But, hey, Ja Morant looks good. And tomorrow the Duke Blue Devils will get started with Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish. Maybe they can grab one of those guys and add some hope to their short- and long-term future.
Injuries have ravaged the Wizards' roster this season, and they have had other issues that run deeper, ones that plagued them long before John Wall went down for the season. Maybe getting a good draft pick, even if it ends up closer to No. 10 than No. 1, wouldn't be the worst thing. At this point, it's the best they can really hope for.
2. The Wizards were without Trevor Ariza for this game as he hurt his groin the night before in Chicago. Head coach Scott Brooks indicated again that it isn't serious, that it was more of a precaution due to the back-to-back set of games.
As the Wizards play out their final nine games, it will be interesting to see how they treat Ariza, injury or not. Since the Wizards acquired him in December, he has been second on the team with 34.7 minutes per game. Given he is 33 years old and set to hit free agency, there is no reason to push it.
3. With Ariza out, Troy Brown Jr. got the nod for his first career start. He was in there with Tomas Satoransky and Bradley Beal at the guard spots, giving the Wizards three guys who can handle the ball and run the offense. It wouldn't be surprising if that trio was in the starting lineup on opening night next season.
Brown, as he has in most of his opportunities this season, didn't shy away from the moment on Wednesday. He made a quick impact with a series of nice plays in the first quarter, including a strong baseline drive and not long after that a reverse alley-oop fed by Beal on the fastbreak.
Brown ended up with a career-high 13 points (6-10 FG) with five rebounds and three assists. The kid can play.
4. Brown for Ariza wasn't the only lineup change Brooks made. The other, which wasn't due to injury, was Thomas Bryant in for Jeff Green.
The news was revealed shortly before tip-off, so Brooks did not offer an explanation pregame. But it was interesting, for sure.
One reason is because Bryant played alongside Bobby Portis in the starting frontcourt. Those two had only played together five total minutes in the first 18 games since Portis arrived in a trade.
There are mixed opinions within the Wizards organization as to whether they can co-exist on the floor. Both are centers that run and shoot, but don't offer much in the way of rim protection. Their styles are redundant and have basically been used as a tag-team partnership.
The Wizards, though, need to evaluate all of their options and especially with their impending free agents, which Bryant and Portis are. If they can't play together and will be too expensive to retain as a duo, the team will have to pick between them.
5. The Wizards are in an undeniably tough spot entering this summer with Wall's torn Achilles, an injury that could keep him out all of next season, the first year of his supermax contract. They are going to have to navigate what is arguably one of the biggest roster-building obstacles in NBA history.
That is not hyperbole. How many players in the history of the game have suffered such a devastating injury while making 35 percent of the salary cap?
If the Wizards are to somehow improve this offseason, they will need to get creative to do so. They will have to find some diamonds in the rough. They will have to build their roster the hard way.
The Denver Nuggets may provide some hope. Look at how they constructed what is currently the second-best team in the West. They found Nikola Jokic in the second round, as well as Monte Morris. They drafted Gary Harris 19th overall.
Jamal Murray was the seventh overall pick, but the Nuggets mostly got where they are by outsmarting other teams and doing it through the draft. The Wizards will have to find some Nuggets-like luck in June.
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