The Washington Wizards lost to the Philadelphia 76ers 113-107 on Wednesday night in their regular season opener. Here are five takeaways from what went down...
Fun season ahead
Okay, that felt different. During the preseason, we only saw a fleeting glimpse of what the 2020-21 Wizards would be, as they decided to essentially punt on their exhibition games and rest their best players.
But those players played against Philly on Wednesday night and showed this might be a brand new year for Washington. They can compete with top teams and not just on a flukey, one-night basis. (They can even do it without Garrison Mathews!)
Now, they didn't win this game, and there won't be many moral victories handed out this season, which they hope ends in the playoffs. But this felt like a step in the right direction, despite a series of late-game blunders that they will surely need to work on. The 20 turnovers and 16-for-23 night at the free throw line won't cut it moving forward.
Yet, there were plenty of positives. Russell Westbrook was a lightning bolt in transition. Bradley Beal kept a good defense off-balance all night. And Davis Bertans rained in threes from far away places. The Wizards showed potential to be a high-powered offense and actually played some decent defense, too.
It was just one night, and we don't yet know if this team will win a lot of games. But that was an encouraging start, despite the result.
Westbrook was Westbrook
Western Conference fans are probably used to it, especially those in Oklahoma City and in Houston, but Wizards fans aren't, at least not yet. Westbrook remains a force of nature on the floor, so quick from baseline to baseline and so good at attacking the rim. He got through a tough Philly defense whenever he wanted and that opened things up for the rest of the Wizards' offense.
Westbrook nearly had a triple-double at halftime and ended up with 21 points, 15 assists, 11 rebounds. He's just the third Wizards player in the last 10 years to have 15 assists in a game (Beal, John Wall). And he's probably their best rebounder already despite being a point guard.
Westbrook shot just 9-for-22 and had six turnovers, but clearly made a major difference for the Wizards. Though it's not a perfect stat, Westbrook being +10 in the box score reflects his impact. Backup point guard Ish Smith, for instance, was -21.
Beal with space is scary
Westbrook's biggest impact may have been indirect, as he drew attention from the defense away from Beal. Beal was able to go to work like we haven't seen him in, well, years.
With Wall missing all of last season and most of the previous two, Beal has transformed his offensive game through the experience of needing to be the primary playmaker. In that time, he had to constantly deal with double teams and defensive gameplans designed around him.
Now, he has some help and the results are going to be nightmare fuel for opposing coaches. Beal was able to patiently operate in space and it was a master class in NBA scoring. He dropped shots in from all three levels and there wasn't much Philly could do about it.
Beal had 31 points on 11-for-22 shooting. He also played really good defense (he had four steals), another byproduct of him having more offensive help. He now has more energy for that end of the floor.
Avdija got the start
It wasn't a surprise by the time head coach Scott Brooks revealed the news, but rookie Deni Avdija was named the starting three during his pregame press conference. That wasn't a surprise simply because Avdija was so good in the preseason, and he started two of the Wizards' three games. Still, for a 19-year-old rookie, it is quite the feat.
Avdija's impact was seen more in the flow of the game than in the box score. He got his first NBA points on an open three. He ended up with a modest line of seven points and four rebounds. He played good defense, even against some tough assignments like Tobias Harris, and it earned him closing minutes late in the fourth.
Just the fact he started, though, was noteworthy. It says everything you need to know about what Brooks and the Wizards believe he can be.
Bertans is a bad man
The Wizards were stumbling in the first half, as the Sixers went on a 34-13 run spanning the end of the first quarter until midway through the second. But then Bertans pulled out his scope and started firing from long range. He knocked down three quick threes to tie the game at 53-53, in an early and emphatic reminder of why the Wizards paid him $80 million to re-sign in free agency.
Bertans hadn't played a regular season game since March. He only appeared in one preseason game. Yet, he came out sharp and finished with 14 points, including 4-for-6 from three.
Bertans, though, only played 20 minutes as he was on a restriction by the coaching staff. He's not injured, he just hasn't worked his way into game shape due to the fact he was a late arrival at training camp because of a work visa issue. Still, even in a small sample size, his impact was felt.