WASHINGTON -- The Wizards got three of their nine total players in health and safety protocols back last night, and each of them played well in a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. That's an encouraging sign because the Wizards know all too well how different things can go.
Last season, they also had nine players enter protocol, causing six games to be postponed across two weeks. When they returned, the team was all out of sorts, as they were still missing a big chunk of their rotation and those who came back took time to regain their rhythm and conditioning.
But against the Cavs, Bradley Beal, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Anthony Gill were all key contributors, each after spending days away from the team and their training program. That may give hope for the others who are still waiting to be cleared.
"Everybody the last two seasons really has gone through this to some degree. I think we kind of take some of those experiences and we're better for it. It's still not ideal," head coach Wes Unseld Jr.
Beal highlighted the group with 29 points, 10 assists and six rebounds. He stepped on the floor in peak form, scoring 21 points in the first half.
Caldwell-Pope had 12 points, four rebounds, two steals and a block. And Gill pitched in with eight points and three rebounds in only 12 minutes.
They looked like they never left. That was a marked change from how things went nearly a year ago, when the Wizards returned to action following their nine-player outbreak. They were blown out in their first four games and in seven of their first nine.
There are some key differences this time around. For one, the whole team didn't stop playing. Beal, Caldwell-Pope and Gill were able to rejoin a group of teammates that are in midseason form.
The NBA also now allows hardship exemption signings. Though they are essentially all G-Leaguers and guys off the waiver wire, the alternative last year was to play games severely undermanned.
And it's also worth noting other teams are in the same boat. Last year, the Wizards had to come back short-handed and play fully-loaded teams that did not have to take a break. The Cavs, for instance, were missing a bunch of their regulars on Thursday night.
Still, for the Wizards' trio to play as well as they did, it bodes well for the guys who are still in protocol waiting to get cleared. The Wizards are awaiting the returns of Montrezl Harrell, Spencer Dinwiddie, Aaron Holiday, Raul Neto, Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant. Davis Bertans also missed Thursday's game with a non-COVID illness.
Both Beal and Caldwell-Pope spoke after Thursday's game and explained how they were able to stay sharp. Beal has a gym and basketball court in his home, so that helped his cause. He also did not experience symptoms and continued to test negative.
"I'm blessed to be able to have some things in my house that keeps me in shape and makes sure I don't lose a step," Beal said.
Caldwell-Pope experienced body aches and a fever. He had to quarantine in his basement, but was able to continue training with workout equipment in his house.
"It was a long week, but it was lonely. I was in the basement by myself basically," Caldwell-Pope said.
Beal said he believes the process of staying sharp in quarantine is different for everybody. So, just because the three who returned on Thursday hit the ground running, doesn't mean the others will.
But perhaps the initial success of those three is a sign of more to come as the Wizards continue to welcome players back from protocols. Maybe this time, it won't derail their season.