Bertans had finally been freed from isolation while his teammates were gone, returning home to his wife and daughter. His first practice was an ordeal — “I could definitely tell that I hadn’t done anything for almost two weeks,” he said — and then he missed all seven of his shots in a 16-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 29.
“The feel for the game was the biggest struggle,” he said.
Smith was having his own problems. The league uses something called cycle threshold, a measure of the amount of virus in the body, to help determine whether a player can be cleared to return. Generally, that number needs to be at least 30, with higher numbers implying less of the virus. A week after first testing positive, Smith was registering cycle threshold values of only 28, he said.
Smith would run up the stairs of his home to gauge his fitness.
“Everybody is different, and I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a situation where I couldn’t breathe,” Smith said.
His teammates and coaches were rooting for him from afar.
“It reminded me of the Winter Olympics,” Sheppard said. “Americans don’t know anything about these sports, but within two days we’re all experts. It was the same thing with Ish: ‘Come on, Ish! You’ve got to get above 30!’”
Smith knew he was fortunate, he said. He had medical supervision. He was undergoing daily testing. His symptoms were never serious. He thought of his siblings, who are teachers, and countless others living through the pandemic without that type of support.
“I’ve got no complaints,” he said. “You just have to pick it up and keep it moving.”
Smith returned on Jan. 31, scoring 13 points in a dramatic win over the Nets. Brooks celebrated with a can of White Claw.
The Wizards have had more lows than highs, going 3-8 since their patchwork season resumed. Practice time has come at a premium. There is no playbook for a pandemic, Brooks said, and he can only hope that his players have endured the worst of it, and that they can build some chemistry. But there are no guarantees, not this season.