The Wizards enter the third week of the NBA season tied for last place in the Eastern Conference. Starting center Thomas Bryant has torn his ACL and will miss the remainder of the season. At 2-8, Washington has failed to meet early expectations and things don’t look to be getting better. A bright spot for the struggling Wizards has been rookie Deni Avdija, who turned in his best performance to date against Miami Saturday night. The Israeli pro took advantage of a starting lineup missing primary scorers Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal, scoring 20 points on 5 three-point jumpers in an extremely encouraging performance for the young prospects’ future.
This Wizards’ week begins with a home game against the Phoenix Suns, an up and coming squad that has been extremely competitive to open the year. The Suns come into Washington off of an eight-point victory in Indiana, in which potential Avdija assignment Mikal Bridges led his team in scoring with 34 points. Bridges have played the best basketball of his career this season, knocking down an unsustainable 46 percent of his three-point attempts, getting about half of his points from beyond the arc. The Suns’ second starting forward is Jae Crowder, a physical veteran who will make Avdija work offensively and can knock down occasional looks from three. The Suns are likely not the contenders their early-season record may suggest, but they are certainly a tough out for Washington.
Wednesday the Wizards host the Jazz in a duel between two of the league’s elite shooting guards in Beal and Donovan Mitchell. Utah’s wing rotation features a variety of skill sets for Avdija to attempt to defend. Joe Ingles and Bogdan Bogdonvic serve as similarly skilled perimeter shooters, both with the size to be somewhat versatile defensively. Royce O’Neale also sees minutes for the Jazz as the starting power forward, an inconsistent scoring threat with talent as both a playmaker and finisher at the rim. The Jazz are on the same tier as Phoenix as Western Conference squads capable of making the playoffs, yet likely to lose in the first round. Nonetheless, the strength of the Western Conference in relation to the Eastern bracket places both the Suns and Jazz on a level above Washington and the Wizards will be lucky to win one of these first two games.
A Friday road trip puts the Wizards in Detroit, where Pistons’ recent lottery pick Killian Hayes has suffered a hip injury that is likely to keep him out at least 4-6 weeks. The Pistons are currently tied with Washington for last place in the Eastern Conference at 2-8, yet have suffered several close losses that suggest a level of competitiveness not apparent in their record. Avdija may face Jerami Grant, the Pistons biggest offseason signing who had scoring outputs of 28 and 31 both in losses last week. Grant is lengthy, aggressive, and can shoot from long range when forced out of the paint. Other potential Avdija matchups include Blake Griffin, no longer a rim shattering All-Star yet still a dangerous isolation threat with an underrated three-point jumper. The Pistons are the worst team Washington will face this week, so a win is mandatory if the Wizards hope to right the ship while they still can.
The final matchup of the week is a Sunday afternoon game in Washington against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs have begun the season better than many expected, and much of their success can be attributed to the development of their young guard duo, Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. Avdija will likely face Turkish sharpshooter Cedi Osman, who has gradually improved as a playmaker in his fourth NBA season. Another possible assignment for Avdija is Larry Nance Jr, a big man that lacks mobility and range on his jump shot, yet finds floor time through the disruption his body causes both as an electrifying finisher and forceful shot blocker. Cleveland has looked like a playoff team two weeks in, but the Wizards have more overall talent and should find themselves victorious to conclude the week.
The Wizards are in desperate need of a winning streak, and if they can get the best of the Suns or Jazz then it only gets easier from there. Washington will play at home Monday at 7 p.m. against the Suns, host the Jazz Wednesday at 7 p.m, in Detroit Friday at 7 p.m., and at home vs the Cavs at 2 p.m. next Sunday.