Wizards take first of two critical matchups with Raptors

Kyle Kuzma

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards beat the Toronto Raptors 119-108 on Thursday night. Here are five takeaways from what went down...

Important win

The Wizards rank 10th in the Eastern Conference and can now count wins over the No. 8 and No. 9 teams in consecutive games. After coming back to beat the Hawks on Tuesday, they outmatched the Raptors essentially from start to finish on Thursday, notching another win that helps their cause in the postseason race.

The Wizards will see the Raptors again on Saturday in a two-game mini-series. They have another one of these next week against the Hawks. These games could go a long way toward deciding who makes the play-in tournament and who misses the cut about five weeks from now.

Washington improved to 30-32 on the season, winning six of their last nine games. 

Kuz got hot

Kyle Kuzma was unstoppable out of the gate in this one, knocking down his first four shots to score the Wizards' first 10 points. The Wizards, in fact, jumped out to a 10-0 lead and all of those points were scored by Kuzma. He dropped in two quick threes, stormed through the lane for a big transition dunk and then sank a midrange jumper from the baseline.

Kuzma then hit a series of shots early in the second quarter en route to 18 points in the first half. He had 30 points for the game, shooting 10-for-24 overall and 4-for-9 from three. It was Kuzma's best shooting night in a few weeks and it likely felt good after a few games in a row where points were harder to come by.


Porzingis returned

The Wizards got Porzingis back after a two-game absence due to knee soreness. He was solid with 25 points on 8-for-12 shooting. The Raptors have a pretty good matchup for Porzingis in Jakob Poeltl, who is nearly as tall and fairly mobile moving his feet on defense. But Porzingis was able to find a rhythm in the second half, also with five rebounds and two blocks in addition to his scoring.

While Porzingis was back, the Wizards played once again without Monte Morris who is dealing with lower back soreness. Morris received an epidural shot on Wednesday and is now considered week-to-week. Head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said before the game he had spoken to Morris after the procedure and that the team is hopeful it will be a short absence.

Better offense

The Wizards' offense had stalled at times over the previous two games without Porzingis and Morris in the mix. They had Porzingis back in this one, but were still missing Morris, with whom the Wizards score 8.3 more points per 100 possessions this season. They looked much better this time, however, scoring 119 points for the game on 51.2% shooting from the field and 46.7% from three.

The three-point shooting was a huge uptick from the previous two games. After making just six threes against New York and Atlanta, the Wizards knocked down 14 triples against the Raptors. They did a terrific job moving the ball in the halfcourt and pushing the pace to create opportunities in transition.

Gafford was a force

I asked a Raptors reporter before the game why Toronto had been so inconsistent this year, given their overall talent level and after a 2021-22 season in which they won 48 games. He said they badly needed a big man who could play defense, hence why they acquired Poeltl at the trade deadline. But Poeltl is just one guy and he alone couldn't guard both Porzingis and Daniel Gafford..

Gafford was able to find open space early, especially in transition. In the second quarter, he threw down two alley-oops within a span of 30 seconds. The Raptors, as athletic as they are, didn't seem to have a great answer for Gafford's size, speed and ability to put pressure on the rim. He had 18 points on 8-for-10 shooting