The Wizards hosted the Philadelphia 76ers on Jan. 17 in a landmark game for Washington. It was the first time all season the Wizards had an entirely healthy roster. After Thomas Bryant and Rui Hachimura had each made their season debuts in the previous week, Bradley Beal returned from the NBA’s health and safety protocols to help lead the Wizards to a dominant 117-98 win over the 76ers.
It was a promising sign for a team in the hunt for a playoff spot. However, the Wizards have dropped four straight since as players’ minutes have fluctuated from game to game. In Sunday’s loss to the Boston Celtics, the Wizards used 14 different players — a rare occurrence in the NBA. Head coach Wes Unseld Jr. admitted to 106.7 The Fan’s Sports Junkies on Thursday morning that the need to get so many players time on the floor has been a problem.
“During this stretch, yeah,” Unseld Jr. said when asked if he’s using too many players. “I think it’s…a byproduct of where we are. We’re integrating two starters from last year and we have to do it. And that’s not lost on the group, though it’s frustrating at times and minutes are choppy.
“Guys aren’t having those normal stretches but when we reintegrate guys who’ve been out for so long, there are oftentimes minute thresholds. So you can’t just throw them out there and say, ‘Ok, go play.’ So having to play 11, 12 guys sometimes is difficult but we have to get through this and we gotta see are these guys ready to play.”
After blowing a 35-point lead in a crushing defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday, the Wizards have just five games left before the trade deadline. To make matters worse, their opponents will be the Memphis Grizzlies (33-17), Milwaukee Bucks (30-20), 76ers (28-19), Phoenix Suns (38-9) and Miami Heat (31-17). All five teams are at least the sixth seed or higher in their respective conference.
Washington enters play Thursday with a slim half-game lead over the New York Knicks for the 10th spot in the East, the final spot for the play-in tournament. Beal said in an interview with NBC Sports Washington’s Chris Miller that a return to the play-in would represent a “step back” for Washington. The team is hoping to convince him to sign a long-term extension this offseason, but he wants to see the Wizards take tangible steps toward contending for a championship.
Unseld Jr. wouldn’t go as far to say he’s showcasing players to include them in potential deadline deals, only indicating the team would consider deals that improve their chances of competing this season.
“This time is awkward for everybody and this is the part of the season where it gets tough,” Unseld Jr. said. “Guys are concerned about that, it’s a real thing. But that’s not our approach. These guys were brought here for a reason. We wanted to accumulate as much talent as possible and give us as much depth and flexibility. We’ve seen that depth and flexibility win us some games.
“I don’t look at it as an opportunity to showcase guys, I’m trying to find the right combinations to help us win. We’re always going to take the opportunity to look at things and if there’s an opportunity to improve our team, I think we’ll do it. But that’s not our main focus.”