WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards lost to the San Antonio Spurs 157-153 in double overtime on Friday night at Capital One Arena. Here are five observations from what went down...
The Wizards returned from the All-Star break on Friday with their best offensive game of the season, and one of the best in their franchise history, a game that saw them score a season-high 153 points and shoot 54.6% from the field. But it wasn't enough to offset a poor defensive performance that allowed the San Antonio Spurs 157 points, the second-most ever scored against the Wizards franchise.
Though the Wizards got a few of them in big moments, stops were hard to come by. The Spurs shot 54.3% from the field and got to the line 43 times where they made 34 free throws. Amazingly, they still fell quite a bit short of their franchise record for points in a single game. Back in 1982, they dropped 171 on the Bucks.
On one hand, it was encouraging the Wizards came back from a week off firing on all cylinders and showing no rust scoring the ball. They just couldn't defend well enough to win. They are now 27-32 on the year overall.
The loss spoiled another monster game from Kyle Kuzma, who had 36 points. The Spurs got into the lane at will, outscoring the Wizards 74-to-66 in paint points. They are second in the league in that category for the season and it's something head coach Wes Unseld Jr. highlighted in his pregame press conference.
The tide may be finally turning for the Wizards when it comes to their outside shooting. All season it has been a glaring problem, to the degree they rank dead-last in threes made per game (10.2). But over the last six games since the trade deadline, it has been a much different story. Against the Spurs on Friday, they surpassed their season average by halftime with 11 threes made.
For the night, the Wizards shot 16-for-38 from deep, good for 42.1%. Over their last six games, they are shooting 39.6% from long range. That is a huge improvement and certainly they hope it will be sustainable. The irony is that this is all coming right after Davis Bertans and Bradley Beal, their two most accomplished 3-point shooters for much of this season, exited the picture. It's unexpected, but sometimes that's how it goes.
KCP was great
A big reason for the 3-point success on this particular night was the contribution of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who hit the team's first two shots for the game, both from long range. He had 24 points for the night, shooting 4-for-10 from the perimeter. He said at shootaround he got his wisdom teeth taken out during the All-Star break and that he had been playing through pain in previous games. Maybe that did the trick.
Caldwell-Pope was one of five Wizards players to make multiple threes on Friday. Raul Neto, who had 22 points, went 4-for-7 from deep. Kuzma was 3-for-5, while Deni Avdija had 14 points and shot 2-for-3 from three. Corey Kispert went 2-for-5 and that extended his Wizards rookie-record streak to 13 consecutive games with at least one triple.
Young talent on display
With Beal done for the year and Kristaps Porzingis not yet available, the Wizards went up against a Spurs team that in a way mirrors their current state. Neither team is tanking, but both are trying to develop a collection of young players featured by recent first-round picks. On Friday night, both teams displayed promise for their futures in that regard. The Wizards had Avdija and Kispert (12 points) play well, among others.
The Spurs have a worse record than the Wizards, and are overshadowed in the Western Conference, but they appear to be a team on the rise. Dejounte Murray just made his first All-Star game and was terrific on Friday with a triple-double of 31 points, 14 assists and 13 rebounds. Keldon Johnson, their 2019 first-round pick, had 32 points while Devin Vassell, their 2020 first-rounder, had 12 points and eight rebounds. Even Lonnie Walker IV, who was taken in 2018 but has struggled so far in his NBA career, had 23 points. San Antonio appears to be on the way up.
Thomas Bryant was listed as questionable for this game due to a right ankle sprain after tweaking at practice this week. He was able to give it a go and play, but came off the bench. The Wizards made an adjustment to the starting lineup to promote Daniel Gafford back to the role he held down for the first few months of this season. Perhaps it dealt with the tough matchup against Spurs center Jakob Poeltl and the fact Bryant wasn't 100 percent.
Gafford had a good game with 17 points, six rebounds and a block. Bryant, meanwhile, added six points in 15 minutes off the bench. When Porzingis comes back, the Wizards may have a tough time choosing between the two, as both bring a lot of value to a second center role. Unseld Jr., though, said recently he plans to experiment with each of those guys alongside Porzingis, who on offense plays a lot on the perimeter and is often more of a four than a five, despite his size.