By DERON SNYDER
I’ll be honest. This was one of my first thoughts Wednesday night after the Wizards’ season opener against the 76ers:
Phew! No one suffered a grotesque injury!
Gordon Hayward’s unfortunate break, the night before in Cleveland, was still in my head. And I didn’t even see it in real-time or later via replay. The look on spectators’ faces and a single image of Boston’s prize free agent – his foot and ankle at painfully implausible angles – did the trick.
Look, I still have visions of witnessing Moises Alou’s severe fracture nearly 25 years ago and that’s enough.
The Hayward incident reminded us that prospects for a season can be fragile, like bones and ligaments if we’re unlucky. The Celtics’ chances of repeating as No. 1 seed in the East dimmed while the Wizards’ outlook for claiming the top spot brightened, LeBron James and Cleveland notwithstanding.
Aside from the forward Jason Smith’s sprained shoulder, the Wizards came away with a clean of bill of health. That’s as important as anything else derived from Washington’s 120-115 victory.
“We focused in on the steps you have to do to win an NBA game and we did,” coach Scott Brooks said. “There were some good things and some things you could probably tell this was the first game. But we got the win.”
Not without some drama as the young Sixers squad rallied from an eight-point deficit to tie the score at 100 apiece with about seven minutes left in the game. Philly had a chance for a game-tying 3-pointer with less than 20 seconds remaining, but Washington held and won on free throws from Marcin Gortat and Bradley Beal.
“They’re a very good team,” Gortat said of the up-and-coming Sixers. “It’s not going to be as easy to beat them like it was the last two or three years.”
Brooks has plenty to go over before Friday’s game at Detroit. The Sixers connected on 15-of-35 3-pointers, while Washington hoisted just 22 from beyond the arc. Philly forward Robert Covington converted seven treys by himself, compared to six by the Wizards combined.
“We just didn’t close out,” Brooks said. “That’s what the league is doing; everyone is shooting threes. We want to shoot more. Twenty-two is not enough.”
The Wizards will shoot a higher percentage than they did in the opener, a pathetic 27.3 percent on 3-pointers. The primary marksmen were off, as Bradly Beal went 1-for-4 and Otto Porter was 0-for-3. But the looks were good and they’ll remain plentiful because John Wall on attack has that effect on a defense.
His shot was off but he took over anyway. He scored 18 of his 28 points in the second and recorded three assists down the stretch to a cutting Gortat. The “Polish Hammer” grabbed a game-high 17 rebounds and added 16 points.
“It’s simple for him,” Brooks said. “I’ve been telling him for two years if runs on screens and rolls hard he’s going to get open looks. We have special players handling the ball.”
There’s no doubting the specialness of Wall, Beal, Porter, Gortat and (eventually) injured Markieff Morris. It’s the bench that has something to prove, still a fact after one game. Smith’s injury limited him to seven minutes and forced Kelly Oubre Jr. to play starter minutes (32:29). Oubre had 14 points and eight rebounds while fellow reserve Jodie Meeks added 14 points.
Smith started in place of Morris, who could miss the first month of the season. Brooks said it’s too early to determine whether another lineup change will be necessary and whether Oubre would automatically get the nod. A lot depends on matchups and what the bench composition would look like.
The stretches when Brooks rested his starters and played the subs remained as stressful as last season. But he complimented his reserves on their “savvy and moxie” and ability to “go out and compete.”
In the end, the Wizards had too much Wall, Beal and Gortat. Perish the thought of one of them going down and missing significant time. Few teams depend on their starters as much as the Wizards and we don’t want to know if they’d respond as well as Boston did against Cleveland.
“It’s sad, really sad,” Brooks said about Hayward’s injury. “We just have to focus on what we do and not worry about injuries. It’s the next man up mentality, like we did with Kelly when Jason wasn’t able to play with the shoulder.”
The Wizards got away with it against Philly and can probably do so against many teams. But they don’t need to make it a habit.
That wouldn’t be pretty and it wouldn’t end well.