WASHINGTON -- Kristaps Porzingis sat at his postgame press conference in a gray Wizards tank top, a look that still takes some getting used to, and grinned from ear to ear for nearly the entirety of his 14-minute availability with reporters.
He mentioned how happy he was three times in his first answer, and multiple times throughout, as the 26-year-old Latvian big man expressed in more than just his words how delighted he was with the way the night had gone.
Porzingis, the big deadline acquisition by the Wizards nearly a month ago, had been recovering from a bone bruise in his knee that had kept him out since late January, back when he still played in Dallas. And after a 25-point performance in a 133-123 win over the Indiana Pacers, there was certainly a lot to smile about.
“I just kind of played my game and guys found me,” Porzingis said. “Some easy situations, knocked down some shots, just try to play my game. It’s been a smooth transition all the way around. Since the first day I got here, felt comfortable now with the guys, first game together and we haven’t really practiced together. Went straight into the game and felt really comfortable with everybody out there.”
He led the Wizards in points, despite playing just 21:19, fourth-most of the team’s five starters. He added five rebounds and two blocks, too, as it became clear just how much Porzingis can impact a game even when the ball isn’t in his hands.
“It was phenomenal,” Kyle Kuzma said of the 'Unicorn's' debut. “Teams can’t just load up on me. Just having the extra guy out there that causes a lot of threat to many defenses, with him he’s so versatile being able to pop, but also if he pops, you run him off. He’s able to put the ball on the ground. Tonight, he just made really really good reads.”
With Kuzma (6-foot-10) and Porzingis (7-foot-3), the Wizards have instantly become a team that can cause matchup nightmares with their size in the frontcourt. Both of them can shoot the 3-ball well -- as Porzingis showed with his 3-for-4 performance from beyond the arc.
Washington coach Wes Unseld Jr. was pleased by Porzingis’ conditioning levels, and both seemed hopeful that he’ll return to a regular workload sooner rather than later. Whenever that happens, the early signs were promising.
Porzingis scored the first Wizards points of the night and, late in the game, had two ferocious slams to put the exclamation point on the win. One of those came from Deni Avdija on a one-handed alley-oop that brought the crowd at Capital One Arena to its feet.
“Great pass,” Porzingis said of the play. “Just had fun out there. Took it step-by-step, got the first little touch shot in. Pass from Kuz, Ish [Smith], Tomas [Satoransky], everybody was great finding me. Then Deni threw the lob at the end. It’s a great moment for the first game to be able to be here in Washington. Looking forward to many more moments like that.”
The Wizards are still 29-34 with now under 20 games to play and, as of Sunday night, they’re two games out of the NBA's play-in tournament. But it was hard to hide the good feelings that Porzingis’ debut brought to Washington.
It couldn’t be any more clear than taking a look at the way he smiled, laughed and oozed joy after his first game in his new city.