Wizards use defense to beat Pistons, snap three-game skid

Wizards use defense to beat Pistons, snap three-game skid originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The Washington Wizards beat the Detroit Pistons 106-92 on Saturday night. Here are five takeaways from what went down…

Much-needed win

This year the Wizards are apparently not allowed to have anything come easy to them, so perhaps we should have known when they went up by 30 points in the third quarter on Saturday that the Pistons would soon make things much more interesting. They put a real scare in the Wizards, taking the lead all the way down to three points in the fourth quarter. Washington, however, would find a second wind to close out the victory.

So, basically the Wizards avoided disaster. The biggest blown lead in franchise history was 23 points, which means they were in danger of setting a record.

That didn’t happen, though, as the Wizards got the win and these days they will take them any way they can. Washington snapped a three-game losing streak and is now able to take a breath after losing eight of its previous nine games.

The defense stood out most for the Wizards. It was just the second time this season they have held an opponent to under 100 points and the first time since Feb. 14. The Pistons had 19 turnovers and shot just 38.8 percent from the field.

One win over one of the worst teams in the NBA will do little to shift the big picture for the Wizards, but they have to start somewhere. Maybe Saturday night was something they can build off of.

Gafford’s debut

The Wizards really couldn’t have drawn it up much better. Ahead of Daniel Gafford’s debut, they raved about his ability to block shots and throw down lobs. So, that’s of course exactly what he did in his first game, and he did all of it immediately.

Gafford made an instant impact with 10 points and three blocks in the first half. He had 13 points for the game. 

The Wizards thought Gafford could bring a new element with his size and jumping ability. That was evident in his debut, as he easily leapt above the rim to throw down a lob from Bradley Beal off a pick-and-roll. His vertical leap also stood out on a block on Jerami Grant, as Gafford went up with two hands and adjusted mid-air to swat it away.

Westbrook was better

While the Knicks held Russell Westbrook in check for two straight games, the Pistons had no such luck. Westbrook was able to shake off some early turnover problems to have a strong night with 19 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists. 

It was Westbrook’s 15th triple-double already in just 37 games with the Wizards, which believe it or not ties him with Darrell Walker for the most career triple-doubles in Wizards/Bullets franchise history. He also became the first Wizards player to have at least 19 points and 19 boards in a game in 10 years, since Andray Blatche did so in 2011.

Westbrook found little resistance from the Pistons’ starting backcourt of Wayne Ellington and Saben Lee. He shot 8-for-19 from the field and even went 2-for-2 from the free throw line. 

Westbrook is such a focal point in the Wizards’ offense that when he shoots as poorly as he did against the Knicks (6-for-29 in two games), and when he turns the ball over, it’s very difficult for them to win. If he’s struggling, it can prevent others from getting into rhythm. On Saturday he was better, so the Wizards were better.

Beal exited

Beal nearly didn’t play in this game due to right foot soreness. He was a gametime decision before getting the clear not long before tipoff. And once he got out there, he played well, with 17 points by halftime.

Beal, however, would leave in the third quarter with a right hip contusion. That was related to a fall he had late in the first half on layup attempt. Beal was called for an offensive foul after a mid-air collision that led to him landing hard on his right side. Beal would continue playing, but he looked uncomfortable and at times was limping around.

Given the Wizards have a back-to-back coming up, don’t be surprised if Beal misses at least one of those games. At this point, he’s got two injuries to monitor.

Lineup change

With his team having lost eight of its last nine games, head coach Scott Brooks made a change to his starting lineup by replacing Garrison Mathews with rookie Deni Avdija. Brooks explained the move as part because the team needed a change and part because he wanted to get Avdija going, as he has been mostly struggling for weeks now.

Avdija didn’t exactly go off for a monster night, but he did play better. The Wizraeli had five points with five rebounds and two steals. Most encouraging was how assertive he attacked the rim, as that showed he was playing with some confidence. Even though Avdija’s performance was nothing special, expect him to stay in the lineup given the Wizards won. Brooks likes to keep things the same when the team wins.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

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