LONDON — With LeBron James with the Lakers, Scott Brooks is confident the Wizards can still compete for a playoff spot, despite the key absences of John Wall and Dwight Howard.
All-Star point guard Wall has been ruled out for the season after undergoing surgery on an Achilles injury, while center Howard — acquired in free agency — has been out since November following an operation on his back..
The Wizards appeared in line for a deep run in the Eastern Conference after James swapped the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Lakers, but at 18-26 they currently sit outside the playoff picture.
Despite their sluggish start to the season — they won just two of their first 11 games — and injury troubles, Brooks is confident Washington still have a chance of earning a place in the postseason.
Ahead of their game against the Knicks in London on Thursday, Brooks told Omnisport: “We’ve had some tough injuries all season long but we’ve kind of stepped up and battled for one another and we’ve got to continue to do that for the remaining part of the season.
“You’re talking two high-level starters — an All-Star starting point guard and Dwight has been one of our big signings this summer. It’s difficult but our guys aren’t using it as an excuse, they’re coming out there and competing and hopefully we can continue to do that and battle for a playoff spot.
“We’re still hopeful for a good outcome this season. This is all part of the journey of all our players and coaches that you have to go through.
“LeBron out of the East opens things up a lot for all the other teams. He’s had that East hold for eight years, so somebody is going to be in the NBA Finals from the East and it’s not going to be LeBron’s team.”
— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) 16 January 2019
Back-up center Thomas Bryant has been one of the beneficiaries of the Wizards’ injury woes, but he insists he will have no qualms about handing his spot back to Howard when he returns to fitness.
“I just try to stay prepared throughout anything — even if Dwight was here and even if he wasn’t,” Bryant told Omnisport.
“It just feels good to actually have that role and play a good role with it and just try to hold it down for him until it he gets back and then just carry it over each and every game for me.
“It’s not up to me if I’m a starter or not. It doesn’t matter to me if I’m starting or not, I just want to win.”
— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) 15 January 2019
The Wizards picked up impressive wins against the 76ers and Bucks before suffering a double-overtime loss to the Raptors in the past week.
Bryant hopes Washington can start stringing together a good run in the second half of the season, starting against the Knicks.
“I expect us to just try and come out here with a lot of energy and try to get this win,” he said. “Just because we’re overseas it doesn’t take away from the most important thing and that’s the game of basketball, trying to stack up some good key quality wins.
“I always believe we can make the playoffs. I still believe we can make the playoffs as long as we get some wins, I still have faith in us.”