The Washington Wizards beat the Charlotte Hornets 124-121 at Capital One Arena on Monday night. Here are five observations from what went down...
When it's a close game and the Wizards need big shots, they know who to turn to. Once again, Kyle Kuzma came through in the clutch with a series of timely threes to push the Wizards ahead in a closely fought game to earn a win, this time against the Charlotte Hornets.
Kuzma had three threes in a stretch of one minute and 49 seconds in the final three minutes of the game which proved pivotal. He had a season-high 36 points, while Bradley Beal added 35 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in his sixth straight game with 25-plus points.
The Wizards found out just hours before the game that Tremont Waters, their only remaining point guard, was entering health and safety protocols. He was signed to a 10-day hardship contract and played just one game before going in.
They once again played without a long list of regular rotation players. The Wizards overcame that to win their fourth game in their last seven tries. They are 19-18 on the year.
This win could prove important down the line, as the Hornets had won the first two meetings between these teams. Winning this game would have secured the season series for Charlotte, which is the first method of playoff seed tiebreaking. The Hornets are now the No. 8 seed in the East at 19-19, a half-game behind the No. 7 seed Wizards. They are so close together that they may need a tiebreaker come April.
The Wizards ended the first quarter leading by 13 points, at 38-25, but that lead quickly evaporated because they couldn't take care of the ball. The Wizards had 10 turnovers in the first half, which Charlotte converted into 19 points. The Hornets used the Wizards' mistakes to go on a 26-11 run to open the second quarter and finish the frame with a 39-18 advantage.
It was just sloppy basketball, but also probably to be expected for a team that was missing literally its first six options at point guard. Spencer Dinwiddie, Aaron Holiday, Brad Wanamaker and Waters are all in protocols, while Raul Neto is reconditioning (more on that below) and Cassius Winston has a hamstring issue. The Wizards, though, figured things out and only had five turnovers in the second half, leading to only nine points for the Hornets. That was a big difference in the game.
Kuzma stayed hot
While little has been consistent for the Wizards lately, Kuzma has been on his best scoring streak of the season so far. He extended his streak of 20-plus points to four games. Kuzma also had 14 rebounds and six assists. He shot 13-for-26 overall and 6-for-11 from three.
Kuzma continues to play more aggressively with his team missing a bunch of key players. But what's interesting is the only guy missing from their starting lineup, which Kuzma is a part of, is Dinwiddie. They are also missing others who generally pitch in on the scoring effort, but Dinwiddie is the absent player who Kuzma plays alongside the most. Granted, Dinwiddie is second on the Wizards in usage rate, so his presence does affect the share of the offense. Kuzma will have to find a way to keep attacking off the dribble when Dinwiddie gets back.
Kispert is coming around
The Wizards are getting more and more out of their 2021 first-round pick. Corey Kispet had another solid game with 12 points and four rebounds in 23 minutes. He shot 3-for-5 from the field and 2-for-3 from three. It was Kispert's fourth time reaching double figures in his last six games. He is shooting 40.5% (15-for-37) from three over his last 10 games.
Kispert is starting to knock down his outside shots and defenses are reacting accordingly by showing him more attention, which is helping the Wizards add space to their offense. He also continues to do a nice job of moving the ball and knowing when to make the extra pass. There was a stretch earlier this season when Davis Bertans was injured when Kispert wasn't able to seize the opportunity and earn a larger role. But this time, with other guys out and Kispert playing more, he is making a really good case to stay in the rotation. Head coach Wes Unseld Jr. may have to find him some minutes, even with the Wizards are whole.
The Wizards got Bertans back for this one as he apparently got over his non-COVID-related illness. He had 14 points, shooting 4-for-7 from three. They also had both Neto and Thomas Bryant cleared from health and safety protocols, though neither played. They were in regular clothes on the bench cheering on their teammates.
Neto is likely to return on Wednesday, per Unseld Jr., while Bryant can now return to his ACL rehab. He needs to play 5-on-5 in a practice setting before he will be ready to go. The Wizards are optimistic others will be cleared on Tuesday as they continue to monitor a host of players in health and safety protocols including Dinwiddie, Montrezl Harrell, Rui Hachimura and Holiday.