WASHINGTON — Anyone stationed behind the end of the Washington Wizards’ bench had the worst views in Capital One Arena on Tuesday night.
The Wizards’ three tallest cheerleaders — and their entire depth chart at center — had taken seats on the sideline. Starter Thomas Bryant joined backups Moritz Wagner and Ian Mahinmi on the injury list and, for the first time this season, the Wizards played without a true center. But height wasn’t the only thing lacking during their 127-120 loss to the Orlando Magic.
Washington essentially played an eight-man rotation that relied heavily on Bradley Beal and asked little of the depleted bench. Beal played nearly the entire second half and logged 42 minutes. Unleashed, he poured in 42 points by making 16 of 30 attempts. Davis Bertans chipped in 21 points, and Isaiah Thomas finished with a season-high 20 with seven assists and five rebounds. But as a team, Washington grabbed 38 rebounds to Orlando’s 48.
Rookie Rui Hachimura started and played 38 minutes in the five spot, providing respectable numbers (15 points and six rebounds) as the Wizards survived much of the game. They even trimmed an 18-point deficit to 83-81 when Thomas hit a pullup jumper with 4:39 left in the third quarter. But Orlando responded by breaking loose on a 21-7 run.
At that point, the Wizards could’ve used some backup — for instance, any of the three well-dressed centers at the end of the bench.
Bryant, who wore a walking boot Tuesday, will miss at least the next three weeks to recover from a right foot stress reaction. The team announced Bryant was evaluated following Sunday’s loss at the Los Angeles Clippers, but he said he has been dealing with the issue for longer than that.
“I noticed it for a few days, but I really noticed it playing the Clippers,” he said. “There’s really not a play I can really pinpoint on. I just knew that in the Clippers game and also the Lakers game [Friday] and the game before that I was really hurting.”
As Bryant joined the injury list, Wagner tried to return but was sidelined for his second straight game with a left ankle sprain.
“I give Moe a lot of credit. That guy has been battling the last two days and all day long. He’s working our performance staff overtime. He wants to be on the court. And he fought all day. That’s a sign that I love about him,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “He’s a winner. He wanted to fight. He knows we’re down. But we can’t put him out there until he’s ready.”
Mahinmi, who has not played this season, sat out again while recovering from an Achilles’ injury. Brooks said Mahinmi has reached the “final stages” of his rehabilitation but did not provide a timeline for his return.
Without a traditional center, the Wizards played the only way they could: small. Still, Brooks had his limits.
“I don’t think I’m going to go that far,” Brooks said when asked whether he would play Thomas, a 5-foot-9 point guard, at center.
Brooks tried to be creative in other ways. Rookie Admiral Schofield, who played small forward in college, worked some minutes as Hachimura’s backup. At 6-10, Bertans often found himself protecting the paint as much as he filled his natural role shooting 3-pointers. And Beal transformed into a juiced-up version of himself. Already carrying the team as its top scorer, facilitator and all-around best player, Beal started the game on a singular mission. Moments into the Wizards’ first possession, he fired his first shot. He spent the rest of the first quarter focused on short-range jumpers and drives to the rim.