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Wizards trying to fit new pieces together with John Wall now out

December 31, 2018

About 73 days and 37 games have passed since the Washington Wizards’ opening night on Oct. 18, and oh so much has changed.

That first game’s starting lineup consisted of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr., Markieff Morris and Ian Mahinmi. Kelly Oubre Jr. played his usual role off the bench. A few weeks later, newcomer Dwight Howard felt healthy enough to make his team debut.

Compare that to the starting lineup in Saturday’s win over the Hornets, which included Tomas Satoransky, Trevor Ariza, Jeff Green and Thomas Bryant. Beal was the only carryover from Game No. 1.

With Saturday’s news that Wall was cutting short his season to undergo heel surgery, coupled with other injuries and two trades the team made in December, the Wizards look nothing like the team that rang in the 2018-19 season. They enter the new calendar year with a 14-23 record and a long season still ahead.

Wall has dealt with bone spurs in his left heel for more than a year, and this week he will address it with surgery that will keep him away of basketball activity for 6-8 months.

“He’s battled this throughout the year, and we tried to manage it,” coach Scott Brooks told reporters Saturday. “He’s done a good job of managing it certain games, and certain games it wasn’t as good. But he never, ever complained.”

Wall is the second of the Wizards’ major components to require surgery this year, after Howard underwent a spinal surgery in late November.

In the shorter term, the Wizards have also been hampered by injuries to Porter (knee) and Morris (neck).

After the disappointing start to the Wizards’ season, during which players had to answer questions of chemistry and effort on an almost weekly basis, the team acquired Sam Dekker in a three-team trade and dispensed of bench player Jason Smith. Then, Washington pulled the trigger on another deal to bring in former Wizard Trevor Ariza in exchange for Oubre and Austin Rivers though the first arrangement involved a third team and apparently fell through when the Wizards did not communicate the correct player to one trade partner.

One of the few personnel swaps that did not involve a trade or injury is the emergence of Thomas Bryant as a starting center over Mahinmi. Bryant was on the opening night roster, but had to spend time in the G League before getting his chance to crack the lineup.

Add it all up, and only three of the eight players who saw minutes in Saturday’s win actually played on opening night.

With so much fluctuation and several new faces, the Wizards are still working out which combinations of five guys work best together.

“When you have Keef, Otto and John out, you’re gonna have some funky lineups,” Brooks said after Friday’s loss to the Bulls. “But that’s no excuse. Like I said, those lineups played hard.”

Brooks was discussing the need to “stagger” Beal and Satoransky, his most experienced guards with Wall out. But now that the All-Star point guard is out for the year, Satoransky figures to be the starter going forward. Satoransky earned 30 starts last season, which mostly came while Wall missed half the season due to knee surgery.

Saturday’s starting five Satoransky, Beal, Ariza, Green and Bryant have logged 91 minutes together this season, the second-most minutes of any combination the Wizards have used, according to NBA.com’s analytics.

The bench is finding a new identity too. Chasson Randle drew Brooks’ praise Friday after posting eight points and two assists in 15 minutes. Dekker is averaging 7.7 points per game for Washington, including a 20-point, 4-assist, 3-steal performance against the Lakers.

“For me, it’s control what I can control, and that’s just me going out and giving effort,” Dekker said. “That’s really what I’m called upon to do. That’s what I’ve been doing since I got into the league four years ago.”

Controlling what they can control amid injuries and calls to tank the rest of the season, that might be all the new-look Wizards can do.

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