Wizards take on Suns Friday afternoon in first of eight seeding games
On Friday, the Wizards will take the court for their first of eight seeding games, facing off against the Suns at 4:00 P.M. at the VISA Athletic Center on the Disney World campus. The matchup marks the first official game action for both teams since the season was suspended in March. Both Phoenix and Washington currently sit outside their respective conference’s playoff picture and must make up ground to force a play-in series against higher-seeded teams.
VISA Athletic Center | 4:00 P.M. | NBCSW | 1500 AM
Wizards: G – Shabazz Napier, G – Troy Brown Jr., F – Isaac Bonga, F – Rui Hachimura, C – Thomas Bryant
Suns: G – Ricky Rubio, G – Devin Booker, F – Mikal Bridges, F – Dario Saric, C – Deandre Ayton
Wizards: Garrison Mathews (personal reasons – out)
Suns: Jalen Lecque (not with team – out), Kelly Oubre, Jr. (right knee rehab – out)
Wizards looking for fast start
With their sights set on forcing a play-in game against either the Magic or the Nets, the Wizards have ground to make up and only eight games to do it. While Washington’s Sunday matchup with Brooklyn looms large, grabbing a win in their first game against Phoenix is nearly as important. When the Wizards tip off against the Suns Friday afternoon, the Nets and Magic will be in the second half of their own opener, a matchup with massive implications on the three-way race for the final two spots in the Eastern Conference playoffs. If Orlando and Washington each win their Friday openers, Washington could come out of the weekend having already cut into Brooklyn’s lead.
Which young player(s) will step up?
For the Wizards, the restart in Orlando will serve as proving grounds for a handful of young players thrust into high-exposure, high-pressure opportunities. Rui Hachimura, Isaac Bonga, Troy Brown Jr., Thomas Bryant, Moe Wagner and Jerome Robinson, among others, will all see more dribbles, shots and defensive responsibilities than ever before. How they handle that responsibility over the next two weeks may play a role in shaping their futures and that of the organization’s next season and beyond.
During the exhibition period, Hachimura, Bonga and Brown Jr. each put forth standout performances. Hachimura led the team in scoring each game, Bonga recorded the first double-double of his career and Brown Jr. averaged 12.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists in the two scrimmages in which he appeared.
Against the Suns, Bryant and Wagner will be challenged early with slowing down Deandre Ayton, the 2018 number-one overall pick and one of the best young big men in the league.
“(Ayton is) a really good player, a really good rebounder,” Bryant said. “The Suns put him in great (positions) to succeed. It’s going to be a great challenge for us.”
Slowing down Devin Booker
The Wizards’ primary focus on the defensive end Friday night will be slowing down All-Star guard Devin Booker, who averaged 26.1 points – the tenth-highest average in the league – and 6.6 assists per game before play was suspended in March. Booker’s biggest threat to opposing defenses is his ability to score from everywhere. He shoots 63.9% from within 10 feet of the basket, 41.4% on both catch-and-shoot and pull-up attempts and shoots 36.1% from beyond the arc. Booker leads the team in usage rate (29.5), minutes (36.1), shots (18.1) and points (26.1) per game and ranks second in assists (6.6) per game.
“(Booker) is one of the best scorers in the league,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said. “He’s a problem. We’re going to have to do it by committee…Like every great player, we’re going to try to throw different things at him. Don’t give him the daily diet of the same thing…He can score from the 3-point line, he can score around the basket, he scan score at the free throw line, he can score in transition and he can score in the half court.”