WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards lost to the Chicago Bulls 120-119 on New Year's Day at Capital One Arena. Here are five observations from what went down...
The Wizards and Bulls played one of the best games Washington will likely be involved in this season, if not the best. The Bulls, though, had the final possession and that's what it came down to, as DeMar DeRozan hit an absolutely ridiculous buzzer-beater three over two defenders in the corner to beat the Wizards by one point.
For DeRozan, it was his second game-winning three at the buzzer in as many days. He became the first player in NBA history to win games at the buzzer in consecutive days and just the second player ever to do so in two straight games (Larry Bird is the other).
DeRozan's shot against the Wizards came right after Kyle Kuzma hit a go-ahead three with 3.3 seconds to go on the other end. The Wizards and Bulls locked horns in a thriller and traded big shot after big shot down the stretch. It was the first time the Wizards have lost a game this season that was decided by three or fewer points. They were 6-0 entering Saturday.
The Wizards fell back to .500 with the loss and now sit at 18-18 on the year. The Bulls took the first game of the season series, which will feature a rematch in one week in Chicago.
Bradley Beal made his first career start at point guard with Spencer Dinwiddie, Raul Neto and Aaron Holiday all in COVID-19 protocols, and he was much more than a fill-in. Beal had 27 points, a career-high 17 assists and four steals. With Beal running the show, the Wizards shot 52.9% from the field.
Kuzma added a season-high 29 points and 12 rebounds, as he continues a recent hot streak with his third straight 20-point game. The Wizards outscored the Bulls 72-to-30 in the paint, but Chicago was able to stick around because they went 17-for-34 from three.
Beal at point guard
Beal had the offense humming along nicely in what was just his second game back from a week off due to health and safety protocols. He was in complete control, drawing the Bulls' defense and making them pay for the extra attention. It was an interesting look at how the Wizards' new-look roster operates with him in the driver's seat and it was excellent. Beal had the ball on a string and pitched a mostly clean game with only two turnovers.
Beal happens to be playing very well lately and this may have been just a continuation of him having the hot hand, but it also begs the question of whether the Wizards should tap into that strategy more. As the Wizards have seen inconsistent results from Beal and Dinwiddie as a backcourt, maybe more primary ball-handling for Beal would be a good thing. Certainly, when he's playing as well as he has lately (he's averaging 27.6 points in his last nine games), it makes sense to give him the ball as much as possible. He must be tired, though, as Beal played 43 minutes and wasn't just standing around.
Gafford vs. his old team
It's sort of hard to believe because so much has happened since, but Saturday's game between the Wizards and Bulls was the first between these teams since their memorable traded last March which sent Daniel Gafford to Washington and former Wizards first round pick Troy Brown Jr. to Chicago. This was the first opportunity for both guys to show their old teams what they are missing.
Gafford played very well and put together some big-time numbers: 19 points, eight rebounds and two blocks all in only 20 minutes because he sat for Anthony Gill down the stretch. The latter being an interesting decision by head coach Wes Unseld Jr. He shot 9-for-10 from the field. All in all, it was a great showing against the team that traded him away and should quite clearly regret doing so at this point. Gafford even blocked Brown Jr., in a play that was rife with irony.
LaVine was a problem
While the Wizards didn't get to see the Bulls or their backcourt at full-strength because Lonzo Ball was out, they did get the full Zach LaVine experience. He was a monster, particularly from the outside, scoring 35 points on 7-for-12 shooting from long range. LaVine cooked just about everyone who took a shot at guarding him. Deni Avdija had a bit of success, but LaVine found ways around him by running him into screens. Avdija also fouled out late because DeRozan kept getting his arm caught on shot contests.
LaVine is so good at this point, he remains perpetually underrated. He keeps getting better, raising the bar and moving the target. Even after making his first All-Star team last year, it seems like he doesn't get nearly enough praise for a guy who averages 26 points, 5.1 assists, shoots 41% from three at the volume he does (7.4 3PA/G) all while being one of the most athletic players in the league. And he's only 26, meaning he could continue to ascend.
The Wizards remain without much of their rotation and on Saturday had five replacement players active. Brad Wanamaker, their sixth replacement player, entered protocol on Friday, one day after making his debut with the team. The Wizards also did not sign guard Jordan Schakel to a second 10-day contract, which should mean he will head back to the Go-Go, barring something unforeseen.
Davis Bertans has now missed two straight games with a non-COVID related illness. Everyone else is trying to get cleared from protocol. That list includes Dinwiddie, Neto, Holiday, Montrezl Harrell, Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant. Team president Tommy Sheppard indicated on Friday in an interview with the Team 980 that Hachimura will be ready to make his season debut once he gets cleared.