- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Two irregularities from the opener: The Wizards won, and the game was at home.

Washington had last four of the last five season openers. It had not played a home opener in the District since 2008 (they also “opened” at home during the strike-shortened 2011 season). Those two issues were altered in Wednesday night’s 120-115 win in Capital One Arena against the spunky, talent-laden Philadelphia 76ers.

Three points from the win that has vaulted Washington into a seven-team tie for the NBA’s best record as the Western Conference works through the night slate in the NBA:

Without Morris and Smith, the bench rotation is thin and concerning

Twice Wednesday, Wizards coach Scott Brooks rolled a full bench unit onto the floor. Bridging the end of the first quarter and start of the second, it held. The bench players came in with a seven-point lead. At the end of the quarter, it was nine.

At the end of the third, the full bench group was on the floor with an eight-point lead. It went to 11 after a Kelly Oubre 3-pointer. At the end of the quarter, Washington’s lead was eight points. Brooks kept the bench group — Tim Frazier, Jodie Meeks, Oubre, Mike Scott and Ian Mahinmi — on the floor to start the fourth quarter. Jerryd Bayless’ 3-pointer 1:28 into the quarter cut that lead to two and caused Brooks to call timeout, then throw his hands in the air.

This is an early, very early, dreaded repeat of last season. When Brooks tried to play five bench players at once, Washington leads evaporated or opponent leads expanded, mostly the former. It caused the starters rest, plus the Wizards wins.

“Good moments and some moments we’re going to talk about some things [Thursday],” Brooks said of the bench. “I like their savvy, I like their moxie. They go out and compete. A couple of things didn’t go their way. A couple of turnovers … I think the transition [defense] was non-existent during that stretch when they were in the game. We were giving up too many points in transition, then we were giving up too many threes in the second quarter.”

Brooks’ opening-night rotation was complicated by Markieff Morris’ late-offseason sports hernia surgery. He was inactive and won’t be back for about four more weeks. The options were reduced further when Jason Smith, Morris’ replacement in the starting lineup, sprained his right shoulder after playing just 7:04. Smith was hurt when he went to block Joel Embiid’s shot and his arm went back further than it was supposed to. He went to the locker room to be checked and did not return. He and Brooks said they will know more Thursday.

“But, don’t feel too bad right now; shoulders are tricky things,” Smith said. “Been through this before with a labrum tear a couple years back — like five years back. Doesn’t feel like that. You never know, though. Obviously we’ll take our precautionary steps.”

Smith tore the labrum in the same shoulder in 2012 on a similar play. He was trying to block a dunk attempt. He tried to play through the December injury before being shut down and needing surgery in March of 2013.

Without Morris and Smith, Oubre (14 points, eight rebounds, a huge putback jam) played more with Otto Porter moved to the stretch-four spot. And, the bench group’s inability to hold the lead forced John Wall and Bradley Beal onto the floor in the fourth quarter sooner than Brooks would have preferred.

When Morris returns, and depending on the outcome with Smith, Brooks will be able to bridge minutes with a starter on the floor not named Beal or Wall. Until then, the bench group will be directed to hang on.

Scoring came easy

Beal finished the night 6-for-17 from the field. That had him grousing afterward about his play.

“I think I played bad,” Beal said. “I really do, I swear I did tonight. I missed way too many free throws [and] missed way too many shots. There were times where my defensive principles weren’t great.”

He started the night 1-for-5. The one was a dunk. The others were bricks from spots he typically makes shots from.

But, he finished with 25 points. The team replicated his poor shooting and high yield. Washington was 6-for-22 from behind the 3-point line (27.3 percent, and Brooks mentioned he wants them to shoot more threes). It had only four fastbreak points. Yet, it scored 120 points. It scored 120 points or more in regulation just eight times last season. Missing a starter, working with a new and shortened bench, playing the opener, not shooting the ball well from deep — it added up to 120 points. That’s an eye-popping number considering the circumstance.

Philadelphia is going to be fantastically fun, if not fantastic

Before the game, 76ers coach Brett Brown, who survived all the pre-payoff facets of “The Process,” said he was a realist. He was also optimistic on opening night when Ben Simmons was finally playing, Markelle Fultz was available, Embiid was able to play almost 27 minutes. Finally having those players on the floor did not “temper the excitement of maybe,” Brown said. Maybe as in, maybe the 76ers can take a huge leap this season in a weakened Eastern Conference. Maybe Embiid will be able to play more toward 30 minutes per game than 20. Maybe Fultz and Simmons will share ball-handling duties so well they blend instead of undermine each other on the floor. The 76ers open the season filled with maybes, perhaps more so than any team in the league. They also have an odd lineup with the 6-foot-10 Simmons running the point, driving and playing in the post on offense.

“It’s crazy, because they’re all pretty much the same size,” Beal said. “It’s crazy being able to see another [6-10] guy playing point and have two guards who can shoot the ball flying around the court and one big fella who can score pretty much anywhere. It’s a little wacky, but something we weren’t used to. That’s a team that plays hard and it works for them.”

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