Wizards

Kuzma's dominant night not enough in loss to Cavaliers

Wizards
Kyle Kuzma, Evan Mobley

The Washington Wizards lost to the Cavaliers 92-86 in Cleveland on Saturday night. Here are five observations from what went down...

Slipped away

Playing one night after they lost in double-overtime to the Spurs, the Wizards dropped another close one to the Cavaliers in Cleveland in a game featuring about half as many points but had the same result. It was the second straight game the Wizards could have won, but weren't able to execute late to seal the deal.

The Wizards led by as many as nine points and were in control for much of the game, but the Cavs took advantage of a series of ill-timed mistakes, including three straight wasted possessions beginning with about four minutes to go that lost them the lead for good. Washington also had 13 turnovers in the first half, which allowed Cleveland to stick around despite shooting just 35.4% to that point.

The loss dropped the Wizards to 27-33 on the season overall. They have lost three of their last four. Up next they will return home for three games before going on a long West Coast road trip.

Kuzma showed out again

Kyle Kuzma having big scoring nights is becoming less and less notable the more he makes it routine. One night after dropping 36 points vs. the Spurs, Kuzma had 34 points and 13 rebounds against Cleveland. He shot 8-for-11 from three, the eight threes made a career-high. Kuzma made six threes the last time the Wizards played in Cleveland and memorably hit a game-winning three from the left corner.

As much as the Cleveland frontcourt presents matchup problems with their size, Kuzma seems to use it against them with his speed and ability to stretch the floor. This was the third time in four meetings this season he's scored 20-plus against the Cavs. They did limit him to 12 points in D.C. back in December, but Kuzma has mostly had his way with the Cavs. He was lights out on Saturday.

 

Better defense, not enough offense

The Wizards gave up the second-most points in franchise history the night before against the Spurs and head coach Wes Unseld Jr. was understandably upset with their defensive performance. They were better against Cleveland, holding the Cavs to 92 points on 38.6% shooting from the field. It probably helped the Wizards' cause that the Cavaliers were extremely thin at the guard position. They were missing All-Star Darius Garland. Collin Sexton, Caris LeVert and midseason acquisition Rajon Rondo.

The problem is the Wizards only managed 86 points for themselves, their second-lowest output of the season. That was despite the fact they made 11-of-23 (47.8%) from three. Their 18 turnovers were a reason they struggled and also they only got to the free-throw line six times, making five of them. Compare that to the Cavs, who went 2-for-24.

Rui from 3

Rui Hachimura's improvement from 3-point range has been a big positive for the Wizards this season and carried that over on Saturday. Hachimura went 2-for-2 from long range as part of a 10-point performance. Lately, he's been scorching hot from deep. Over his last seven games, Hachimura is now 12-for-17 from three, good for 70.6%.

That's quite the stretch for a guy who before this season was not known as a 3-point threat. He's helped the Wizards shoot much better as a team from 3-point range in recent games. They have been able to turn what has been arguably their biggest weakness all season into a strength, at least for a few weeks. It must be noted, however, that Hachimura had some rough moments late in the fourth quarter including a loose ball foul on Jarrett Allen which helped the Cavs earn the victory.

Ish and Gaff

Daniel Gafford is not only back in the starting lineup, he's back to making a significant impact on the offensive end. He had 17 points against the Spurs and the next night dropped 14 points against the Cavs. Gafford shot 7-for-9 from the field, as he found open lanes to the rim despite the Cavs' formidable frontcourt. Gafford also had seven rebounds and could have had better numbers if he didn't battle foul trouble.

Part of why Gafford has been revitalized may be the return of point guard Ish Smith. He's turned up the speed for the Wizards' offense and is terrific at getting into the lane and throwing accurate lobs for Gafford to devour at the rim. Gafford was a monster last year with Russell Westbrook and Smith in the point guard rotation, but has so far averaged about five fewer points per-36 minutes this season than he did