Basketball / NBA

Wizards' Rui Hachimura excited to return to court as NBA scrimmages begin

KYODO

Rui Hachimura showed little rust in the Washington Wizards' first intersquad scrimmage in the NBA's coronavirus "bubble" in Orlando, with the Japanese rookie playing a prominent role in his team's 89-82 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday.

With the league set to return on July 30, the players who have been residing and training in Florida's Disney World campus got their first taste of playing in the strange setting with no crowds and social distancing measures in place.

Hachimura led the way for Washington in various statistical categories. He scored a team-high 18 points, grabbed nine rebounds, played 26 minutes and took the most shots.

"The atmosphere was a bit different, but I was really happy to be back on the court playing (in a game) for the first time in a long time," Hachimura said.

"I'm really grateful that we get to play basketball in difficult times like these."

The Wizards were one place out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture when games were stopped on March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

They are the only team from the conference fighting to reach the playoffs, with all the franchises ranked below them not included in the remaining games of the reorganized season.

Adding to the difficulty, the Wizards' best player, Bradley Beal, is not in Florida. Beal has decided not to play due to a shoulder injury. Sharp-shooting Latvian Davis Bertans is also not with the team.

That puts a lot more pressure on Hachimura's broad shoulders, a fact he is well aware of.

"I felt the need to step up and take responsibility," Hachimura said after the game.

Washington's first game of the restarted season will be against the Phoenix Suns, a Western Conference team also needing to string together a run of wins to get into the playoffs, on July 31.

They have eight regular season games to win their way into the play-in series for the final playoff spot, but with a shorthanded squad it will be a tall task.

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