The Washington Wizards beat the Magic 102-100 in Orlando on Sunday night. Here are five observations from what went down...
A win is a win
With the way they have been playing lately, and the revolving door their roster has become due to health and safety protocols, the Wizards will take wins any way they can get them at the moment. It required a 10-point comeback against one of the NBA's worst teams, and a game-saving block, but the Wizards got the victory on Sunday in Orlando and now they can return home with something to build off of.
The Wizards hung on thanks to a block by Bradley Beal on Gary Harris in the final seconds. Harris took a three, which would have been the go-ahead shot. The Wizards had lost twice in their last four games on buzzer-beater threes, but not this time.
Washington got back to .500 at 20-20, as they sit one game away from the midway point of the season. They play their next eight games at home.
After sitting out 39 games - nearly half a season - due to personal reasons, the Wizards finally got 2019 first-round pick Rui Hachimura back in the fold for his season debut. He had been cleared from health and safety protocols, brought up to speed conditioning-wise and was cleared for takeoff. As head coach Wes Unseld Jr. proclaimed in his pregame press conference: "It's time."
Hachimura played 14 minutes and mostly looked like has some rust to knock off. He scored six points, shooting 2-for-8 from the field, and added three rebounds. Hachimura was aggressive attacking the rim and got to the free-throw line where he shot 2-for-4. It's going to take him some time to catch up to everyone else who is in midseason form, so Sunday was just the start.
Hachimura's best plays were a pair of dunks. He threw one down off a feed from Beal (20 points, seven assists) at the dunker's spot in the first half and then had a left-handed putback slam in the third quarter.
Kuzma on the glass
While Kuzma has been heating up lately scoring the ball, he has been great as a rebounder all season. He entered Sunday averaging a career-high 8.4 rebounds per game and then doubled that against the Magic. Kuzma had a career-high 22 boards to go along with 27 points, shooting 10-for-19 overall and 3-for-6 from three. He is the first Wizards player with a 20-plus point and 20-plus rebound game since Antawn Jamison in 2010.
It was Kuzma's seventh straight game with 20 or more points. That's rarer than it may sound, at least for Wizards players. Kuzma is only the fourth Wizards player to have a streak that long in the last 10 years, joining Beal, Russell Westbrook and John Wall. Wall's longest streak for the Wizards was eight.
Kuzma had 13 rebounds in the first half alone, which is a lot. Not only was that a career-high for him in a single half, it was the most for a Wizards player in one half since Marcin Gortat in 2015. Ironically, Gortat was at the game. Now retired from the NBA, he lives in the Orlando area and showed up to watch his two former teams go at it.
While the Wizards continue to add to their depth with guys returning, their depth struggled to keep up with that of the Magic on Sunday. Orlando's bench outscored the Wizards' second unit 43-to-21 and one guy in particular did much of the heavy lifting. Terrence Ross had 32 points, including 16 in the third quarter. He shot 13-for-20 from the field and 2-for-4 from three. Ross has long been a pain for the Wizards and Sunday was no different.
Bench scoring hasn't been a strength for the Wizards lately. They lost the category 52-29 in their loss to the Bulls on Friday night and 29-21 in their loss to the Rockets in the game before. It seems like they have a chance to turn their second unit into a strength once they are not only whole, but when the guys who are getting worked back in get up to speed. But as their defense and three-point shooting this season have showed, just having the personnel doesn't offer any guarantees.
The Wizards got Hachimura back and also Davis Bertans, who missed one game with a sprained left foot. They were, however, still without Montrezl Harrell despite him being listed as questionable and there being some indications in previous days he would be ready to return. Harrell, according to Unseld Jr., cleared protocol too late for him to play in the game. So, it looks like Tuesday against the Thunder will be the day.
With Harrell out, and Thomas Bryant still working his way back from ACL surgery, the Wizards were extra thin at center and making matters worse was Daniel Gafford getting into early foul trouble. He picked up his third foul with 8:46 left in the second quarter, leaving the Wizards to rely on Kuzma at the five. Though Greg Monroe was available, they didn't go to him until late in the third quarter.
With Hachimura and Bertans in the fold, once Harrell comes back things could start getting crowded when it comes to playing time. It will be interesting to see how Unseld Jr. sorts it out.