Wizards

Wizards lean on defense, Harrell for fourth-straight win

Wizards

The Washington Wizards beat the Orlando Magic 104-92 on the road on Saturday night. Here are five observations from what went down...

Took care of business

You could argue that Saturday night's game against the Orlando Magic, one of the NBA's worst teams, was a unique test for the Wizards as they continue to ride a hot start for the 2021-22 season. It was the first time this year they have played a truly terrible opponent and in the past, these are the exact types of games that would lead to letdowns. The Wizards have far too often played up to and down to their opponents, which can be a trademark of mediocre and bad teams.

The Wizards, though, didn't play down to Orlando at all. Even without Bradley Beal, they took advantage of a young and inexperienced Magic team to earn a convincing blowout victory. Washington has now won four straight.

It is yet another positive sign for what they have built under head coach Wes Unseld Jr. With their depth and defense, they are consistently competitive, whether it's against good teams or bad, and whether they are healthy or not. While the Magic may have sensed an opportunity against the Wizards without Beal (bereavement), Rui Hachimura (personal reasons), Davis Bertans (ankle) and Thomas Bryant (ACL rehab), the Wizards just kept it rolling like nobody was missing.

The Wizards continue to show they can win in a variety of ways. At 9-3, they are off to their best start since 2014-15. If they beat the Pelicans on Monday, they will have their best start to a season since 1974-75. Hopefully that's not a jinx.

 

Harrell changed the game

It wasn't smooth sailing early for the Wizards, as they went down 15-12 and convinced Unseld Jr. to take a timeout. He brought Raul Neto, Deni Avdija and Montrezl Harrell off the bench to play with Aaron Holiday (who started in place of Beal) and Daniel Gafford. Immediately, they lit a spark and helped the Wizards gain the momentum and outscore the Magic 16-3 to end the first quarter. That included a stretch that was part of a 20-0 run that carried into the second quarter.

Neto and Avdija made key plays, but it was Harrell who made the most defining impact. He quickly got hot while guarded by Mo Bamba and had six points in his first three minutes. Bamba had no answer for Harrell's bully-ball despite being about five inches taller than him. By the time Harrell took a seat, he had 10 points, four rebounds and three assists in 11 minutes.

Harrell would end up with 20 points (9-13 FG), career-high seven assists plus six boards, and all of that in only 21 minutes. It was also just one day after he missed practice due to a migraine headache. You can see why he was the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year two seasons ago. He's as good as anyone at flipping a game on its head off the bench.

Dinwiddie balled out

The Wizards are now 2-0 without Beal this season, matching the wins they got last year in the 12 games he missed. A big reason for this is the play of Spencer Dinwiddie. He had a season-high 34 points against the Pacers in the second game of the season, as the Wizards beat Indiana sans Beal. And in this one, he went off again for 23 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and a block.

Dinwiddie shot 10-for-18 from the field and 3-for-9 from three. He continues to shoot at a career-best clip from three, now at 36.1% on the season. He's also now averaging a career-high in rebounds at 5.6 per game. For as much attention as Kyle Kuzma has received for his career year in rebounding, he's not the only one. Dinwiddie is also stepping up in that regard.

Defense led the way

While it changes from night to night who has the hot hand on the Wizards, their defensive effort remains a constant. They put the clamps on the Magic right away by only allowing 18 points in the first quarter and 19 in the second. The 37 first-half points for Orlando tied the fewest the Wizards have allowed in a single half this season so far.

The Magic only had 92 points for the game, marking the fifth time the Wizards have surrendered fewer than 100 this season. They did that only five times all of last year. The Wizards also held Orlando to 33.7% from the field and 32.5% from three.

Kuzma went off

Like Dinwiddie, Kuzma had himself a game to help overcome the loss of Beal's scoring. Kuzma picked up where he left off against the Cavs with another three-point scoring barrage, this time in the third quarter. Kuzma missed his first six threes in the game, but then popped off with three long-range shots in a span of just one minute and three seconds. He scored 11 straight points for the Wizards, as they broke the game open and essentially put the Magic out of reach.

 

Kuzma finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks and a steal. He shot 6-for-14 overall and 3-for-10 from deep. Those three threes, though, were pivotal. He has great timing with his shooting streaks and not many players on the Wizards roster are capable of erupting from three quite like that.