Wizards

Kuzma posts career-best 22 rebounds in win over Magic

Wizards

Kyle Kuzma cracked that he almost single-handedly allowed overtime to happen.

With the Wizards up by two and only a few seconds left on the clock, Bradley Beal got a hand on what would’ve been a game-winning 3-pointer by the Magic. But the ball deflected right to Chuma Okeke in the paint, and Kuzma had to make one final play. 

He leaped and got just enough to redirect the shot as it bounced off the glass and fell harmlessly to the ground as the Wizards pulled out a 102-100 win in Orlando against the lowly Magic. 

But were it not for Kuzma, there likely wouldn’t have been overtime — but not in a good way for the Wizards — as one of the best performances of his career was enough for the team to get back to .500 once again.

“I just saw Brad block, and I fell asleep,” Kuzma said of the final play. “Didn’t realize how much time was on the clock and he got the tip...We almost went to overtime, honestly. Yeah, there’s that.”

Kuzma’s final (and only) block, though, wasn’t what he’ll be remembered for as he posted 27 points and 22 rebounds, the latter standing as a career-high.

He was dominant on the glass and was the team’s leading rebounder by an astounding difference of 16. He also led the Wizards in points with 27, as only Terrence Ross (32 points) outscored him on either side. 

Kuzma also became the first Wizard to post a 25-20 game since Chris Webber did so a quarter-century ago.

 

“Kyle made some huge plays,” coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “He rebounded the ball exceptionally well tonight. We know he can make shots, he’s made big shots, for us all season. He’s staying in attack mode which is great. The balance of taking care of it, making the right play versus staying aggressive, there’s some times he does a little too much, but when it’s winning time, I gotta give him credit. He’s not afraid of the moment.”

His role has expanded in the nearly half a season he’s been in Washington, and that’s something he expected when he came over from Los Angeles last summer. 

“Just an everyday process,” Kuzma said. “Just defense and rebounding, that’s what I talked about when I got here. I’m still trying to uphold that. I’ve been taking on a little bit of a scoring mentality within that and I’m just trying to do it all. I know what I’m capable of, I’m just here to try to win ball games, whatever that takes.”

He credited a lot of his success this season, a year in which he’s averaging 15.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists, to the role he had with the Lakers where he found himself watching from the bench for the last two years. He’s currently averaging nearly five minutes more per game compared to last year, and eight more minutes than the year prior.

“I just knew once I got traded, it was just a golden opportunity for me to enhance my game and show everything that I’ve learned, but also what I’m capable of with opportunity,” Kuzma said. “I’m just showing that right now.”

Beal said he told Kuzma that he should have a double-double each game, solely because of the size and athleticism he brings to the floor. And when Kuzma pushes the ball, the Wizards can run in transition. 

Through his first 38 games as a Wizard, Kuzma has quickly become a fan favorite and a player the team can rely on down the stretch. Sunday was one of the best examples of why.

“I think his role has expanded here and it’s been good for us,” Unseld said. “His ability to play-make, he’s been rebounding at a high level. I want to see him get back to defending at a high level. Early on, it was very impressive and I know he can do that. He’s playing with a little bit more freedom maybe than he has in past seasons. It’s shown.”