PHOENIX — The Washington Wizards’ seven-day, four-game jaunt through the Western Conference was supposed to be a reunion tour of sorts.
Ex-Laker Kyle Kuzma will face his former coach in Los Angeles — Frank Vogel, who’s now leading Phoenix — when the Wizards visit the Suns on Sunday. Ex-Warrior Jordan Poole returns to where his career began for the first time since he was traded this past summer when the Wizards play at Golden State on Friday. And in between, Corey Kispert will flit up to Seattle to see some old friends as his No. 24 King’s High School jersey is retired Wednesday.
But there’s a marquee name missing from that list.
In their injury report Saturday, the Suns revealed that former Wizards guard Bradley Beal will not play in the first meeting for Washington and Phoenix since Beal was traded to the Suns in a blockbuster June move that started the Wizards’ rebuild. Beal sprained his right ankle Friday in a 139-122 loss to New York when he landed awkwardly on the foot of the Knicks’ Donte DiVincenzo after hitting a three-pointer in the first quarter. Vogel said after the game that X-rays did not show a fracture.
The sprain is another setback in a trying season for Beal. After 11 years in Washington as a roster cornerstone, he has mostly been confined to the bench in Phoenix because of a lower-back issue. Friday’s was just his sixth game of the season and his third since returning from his most recent back flare-up, which sidelined him for a month. This is the first time that an ankle injury has kept him out of a game this season.
His injury issues are part of the reason Phoenix’s hotly billed trio of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Beal have shared the court just twice, including their debut in a loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday. Booker has missed nine games with foot, ankle and calf injuries; Durant has missed two games with a right foot injury and two games with a left ankle injury.
Beal’s sprain is part of a growing list of injuries that have hampered the 30-year-old in recent seasons. He shut down his 2021-22 season in early February after having wrist surgery to repair a torn scapholunate ligament and then missed 22 games in the 2022-23 campaign before the struggling Wizards shut him down March 22 with 10 games left.
For Washington, his absence Sunday means there will be one fewer titanic scorer on the floor to defend. Beal is averaging 14.7 points while shooting 44.9 percent in his limited action; Durant, who leads the Suns at 30.7 points on 51.8 percent shooting, and Booker, averaging 28.1 points on 48.4 percent shooting, will be bigger problems.
“Our approach won’t change,” Wizards Coach Wes Unseld Jr. said of Beal’s absence. “Just like with all good players, we’ve got to give them different looks, show them a crowd, try to guard without fouling. Make them work and earn everything they get.”
Washington again will be without Johnny Davis (calf), Landry Shamet (rib) and Delon Wright (knee), though all three guards traveled on the road trip. Unseld is hoping to replicate the success Sunday that the Wizards had in a Friday night win over the Indiana Pacers, specifically with how attentive his team was to defending star guard Tyrese Haliburton. He finished with 19 points on 7-for-17 shooting — not an extraordinarily poor performance but below his season average of 25.7 points.
“It was more the game-plan discipline and less a specific coverage I thought we executed really well,” Unseld said. “… Just that mind-set of doing what’s necessary at every moment, each and every time you have a chance to do it.”
Beal’s next chance to see the Wizards will come Feb. 4 in Washington.