When Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks was asked about the first regular-season game of the season not being a particularly a great test for his team against the Cleveland Cavaliers this coming Wednesday, he said, “I’m happy the media called me.”
Brooks knows the Wizards’ home opener that night is a particularly testing measuring stick. If he and his players underestimate the Cavs’ well-played preseason schedule, or the new and re-tooled Wizards, they might find out a lot about themselves in their first non-conference meeting.
And they could run out of gas early, a truism of this year’s preseason basketball, such as the Wizards did with an overtime loss to the Knicks last Friday. At the end of that game, after Dwight Howard’s quick left hook set up former-Bulls center Joakim Noah for the eventual game-winning layup, Brooks gave a quick fist pump, to make his point.
“The closest we’ve been,” said Brooks, whose Wizards’ preseason record was 1-3, including an 0-3 mark in Las Vegas against the Cavaliers, Raptors and Celtics.
The Cavs first-year coach Tyronn Lue, a former Wizards assistant, knows they are a far different team than the 2011-12 Wizards when they were the then-best young franchise in the NBA. It was on that December 2011 game in Cleveland that the new, 2010-11 John Wall missed the game because of his knee injury. It is worth noting that in that lost season the Wizards were a half-game behind the Hawks, who that year also missed at least one postseason game for John Wall, during that final week before the playoffs began, and remain in the past.
“Their [Wall] guard play and their [Al] Harrington and Jordan Crawford and [J.J.] Redick, they bring a lot,” Brooks said. “We go there, and we have a chance to play a great team. You can’t go there and not show your best.”
That is an obvious reference to two of the Wizards’ biggest additions — point guard Bradley Beal and small forward Otto Porter Jr. — are expected to start Wednesday, as well as defensive stalwart Marcin Gortat, who was knocked out of Saturday’s game against the Knicks after falling onto his own head and taking several icy swipes at the same part of his skull. Blake Griffin and Kevin Love will not be there, and J.R. Smith is not yet ready to play.
Beal is looking forward to the game, which will give him more of a sample of his teammates as a full season progresses. The past two preseason games have not been quite the true gauge they will have in the season opener, where, Beal said, “It’s a little bit different from the regular season game, but it’s still going to be a good test.”
Still, it is difficult to gauge the presence of these new additions or the vaunted talents of Wall with a loss and so little game time under his belt, Beal said. He knows he will soon have to be more consistent.
“We still have a lot of improvement in us and we have a lot of work to do, especially for the guys that are playing extended minutes,” he said. “We’re all comfortable, but we’ve got to continue to work on small things like running the floor or post-ups or penetration. Those are the things that we’ve really been struggling with so far in camp.”
Wall did not come out of camp early and to the hospital, instead coming back on the court after a bruised kneecap to avenge the fact that the Wizards coughed up 25 points to the Cavaliers last Christmas Day, most of it at the rim.
Amar’e Stoudemire, who was in a meeting with the team trainer Monday and could not say when he might return to practice, was one of the latest to be out, along with Bradley Beal and Brady Heslip, who had been tending to his sick mother. Last week, the Wizards lost Jordan Crawford and Trevor Booker.
The Wizards went 8-21 in the second half of the 2010-11 season as Wall arrived. Still, they finished just 3 1/2 games behind the Hawks after being 5 1/2 games out. They might be looking up to the Hawks now, even though the Hawks were an NBA-best 46-36 last season.
“They’re a well-coached team,” Brooks said. “They’ve done a great job. They’re well-rounded. They have great players.”
Wall could be one of the players Neal turns to after a botched screen causes him to miss a dunk against the Knicks in what would be his last game last Friday.