The Washington Wizards beat the Brooklyn Nets 113-112 on Thursday night at Capital One Arena. Here are five observations from what went down...
Wizards steal one for playoff positioning
Lacking the star power that TNT expected when they flexed the game in for Thursday night showcase, both the Wizards and Nets had to feel like this game was ripe for the taking. The Nets were without top player Kevin Durant, with James Harden en route to Philadelphia, after losing nine straight. The Wizards are still trying to find themselves after the loss of Bradley Beal for the season and several players on the move due to the trio of trades made at the deadline.
Additionally, it was a road game for Brooklyn meaning Kyrie Irving was available to play.
Nevertheless, without Beal and four other rotation players because of trades, Washington beat the eighth-place team in the East at home. The Nets led most of the way, but the Wizards took the lead midway through the third and didn't relinquish it for the remainder of the contest.
Going forward, these are the games Washington has to have in their pursuit of the playoffs. Other teams that are hovering around the play-in tournament position are just as desperate as Washington.
The win moves the Wizards momentarily a game behind the Atlanta Hawks for the final spot in the play-in tournament. It's all the sweeter for Washington getting the win by being forced to call up three Go-Go players in a tough situation.
Kyle Kuzma's first triple-double
It wasn't the traditional big night for Kyle Kuzma but this time it was a little bit of everything for the burgeoning star. To his credit, he didn't need it to be either as he delivered a complete performance to earn his first triple-double (15 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists).
Sometimes, he took over as the team's primary facilitator. Other times he was a catch-and-shoot threat from behind the arc. He also took over and pushed for big buckets in huge moments, but made sure others were involved.
He concluded the triple-double with an under-the-basket driving feed to Thomas Bryant for an open layup to get assist No. 10. Having only one point guard on the roster meant someone had to assist Neto in the half-court offense, Kuzma was more than comfortable filling that role
With Kuzma as the key star on the roster without Beal, it's pivotal for Washington to get wins in a variety of ways. It's encouraging that they don't need him to drop 30 points to get a win over a playoff contender.
Who's the point guard?
Every year the trade deadline causes chaos as teams have to navigate depleted rosters with players on the move - in and out. For the Wizards, no positional group was affected more due to the three trades than the point guard. Only one was left on the roster.
When asked how Wes Unseld Jr. would handle point guard for the game, his answer was simple, "Raul. That's my plan." It was also his only option.
With Spencer Dinwiddie on his way to Dallas and Aaron Holiday heading to the Suns, the team was without the No. 1 and No. 3 guys for the position on the depth chart. It was Neto's first start of the season - who in some instances outperformed Dinwiddie when playing with the starters throughout the year.
Neto primarily brought the ball up the court, but the playmaking duties were really done by committee. Kyle Kuzma got his touches to run the show. Go-Go call-up Cassius Winston had 10 minutes in relief. Even Deni Avdija got the chance to initiate the offense at times.
Overall it led to one of the best passing nights of the season for the Wizards. Washington assisted on 29 of their 43 made baskets. Kuzma led the way with his 10 over Neto (six), Winston (two) and Avdija (one).
Most notable of the bunch was perhaps Avdija getting the vote of confidence from coach pregame. Unseld said that he'll likely be the one getting more opportunities to lead the offense. Avdija's playmaking ability was one of the reasons Washington selected him ninth in the 2020 NBA Draft and it really hasn't been seen with his injury last year and being shuffled down the depth chart.
Ish Smith is coming back to D.C., but still, the point guard position remains open. There are minutes to be had and several candidates that could be worthy of a look behind Neto.
Raul Neto answers the bell
Being the lone point guard on the roster is a big weight on one's shoulders, even if it's only for one night. But, to the surprise of no one Neto delivered when he was called up as he has done all season.
Neto was aggressive throughout, not afraid to drive to the basket against Brooklyn's bigs. It led to several drive-and-kicks where he was able to get all of Washington's 3-point shooters involved early. Again, some have regarded Neto as the best point guard on the roster even with Dinwiddie. Thursday night was another display to support that claim.
Neto finished the evening leading the Wizards with 21 points (7-for-9 FG) to go with his six assists.
Just as important as being the lone point guard, was Neto drawing the defensive assignment on Kyrie Irving. The 6-foot-1 point guard did not shy away from the major assignment against the seven-time All-Star. He did an outstanding job keeping his hips in front of Irving and holding his ground. No play was perhaps more impressive than when Irving drove straight into Neto, but he held his position allowing Thomas Bryant to get a steal and transition chance.
Still, Kyrie Irving is Kyrie Irving and had 31 points on nine-for-22 shooting. However, it was evident when Neto was switched off Irving.
Is Cam Thomas the next Wizards killer?
There's always an unexpected player that unpredictably shows out against the Wizards. This night it was rookie Cam Thomas.
He lit up the scoreboard wire-to-wire and even drilled some clutch 3-point baskets in the final quarter that allowed the Nets to have a chance to win it late - one being a four-point play after Kentavious Caldwell-Pope fouled him. The night finished with him as the second-leading scorer totaling 27 points and 11-for-17 shooting with four threes.
With injuries and depth issues, the LSU product has become a regular in Brooklyn's rotation this past month. Clearly, the Nets got a good one with the 27th overall pick of this past draft.