The Washington Wizards beat the New Orleans Pelicans 113-103 on Saturday night. Here are five takeaways from what went down…
5 in a row
The Wizards are in the midst of a massively important five-game road trip with the Feb. 9 trade deadline quickly approaching, and they are rising to the challenge. They beat the Pelicans on Saturday night for their fifth straight win overall, tying a season-high, and their third consecutive win to begin this road swing.
The Wizards have now won 12 of 18 games since their 10-game losing streak that spanned across November and December. In this game, they got revenge on a New Orleans team without Zion Williamson that blew them out in D.C. earlier in the month. The Pelicans are currently on a seven-game losing streak.
Washington is now 23-26 on the season, tied with the Chicago Bulls for the 10th-best record in the East, i.e. the final spot in the play-in tournament. The Wizards are just two games back from the eight-seed now with only six games left until the trade deadline.
Gafford went off
Playing for the third straight game without Kristaps Porzingis next to him in the starting lineup, Daniel Gafford came through with one of his best games of the season. He was a monster in the first half with 14 points, setting the stage for a final stat-line of 21 points (season-high), 12 rebounds (tied season-high) and five blocks.
Gafford was everywhere on both ends of the floor, regularly making highlight plays. He had a huge alley-oop dunk in the first half set up by Bradley Beal, who threw a pass he had to reach back for. Not long after, he rejected a Jose Alvarado floater attempt into the stands on the sideline. Gafford has been really good for the Wizards ever since he was promoted to the starting lineup and the fact he’s done it both with and without Porzingis is a testament to him. Washington is now 6-2 without Porzingis this season.
Kuzma played to win
This game was a good example of how Kyle Kuzma’s value extends beyond his numbers. He plays the right way as a willing passer and defender, and on this particular night that came at the expense of his scoring. Kuzma went scoreless in the first half on just four shot attempts. He only had two field goal attempts until there was just over a minute to go in the second quarter. Keep in mind he is both in a contract year and making his closing argument to be a first-time All-Star.
Kuzma was passing up his own looks to make the extra pass and get others better shots. He was also expending a lot of energy defending All-Star Brandon Ingram, his former teammate on the Lakers. Ingram came out hot, making his first three shots. But Kuzma helped hold him to 1-for-8 in the first half. Ingram ended up with 22 points on 8-for-22 shooting with six turnovers, a night the Wizards will take considering the talent he is.
Kuzma, meanwhile, came out much more aggressive looking for his shot in the third quarter. He had 10 points in the second half to go along with nine rebounds, five assists, a block and a steal for the game.
The Wizards traded away their best bench scorer earlier in the week, but in the three games since have seen others step up to fill the void. In this game it was a collective effort, as the four players who appeared off the Wizards’ bench combined to score 44 points, besting New Orleans’ second unit which contributed 39 points.
Deni Avdija led the way with 15 points and nine rebounds, as he lived in the paint off aggressive attacks in transition and off catch-and-go’s driving to his right. Taj Gibson had nine points, 10 rebounds, three assists and a block. Kendrick Nunn added 12 points and Delon Wright had eight points.
The bench contributions were essential given Kuzma didn’t score at his usual rate and Beal really struggled while battling Herb Jones for much of the night. He had 16 points on 5-for-17 shooting with five turnovers. Beal, though, made some big shots at the end to seal the win.
Gibson was part of the second unit scoring effort and he also took one for the team in the first half. While defending in the post, he took an elbow to the side of the head from Pelicans big man Jonas Valanciunas. The original call was a foul on Gibson, but a review by the officials determined Valanciunas to have committed a flagrant 2. That got him ejected from the game.
Valanciunas may not be a star, but he’s a heck of a player and the Wizards know that firsthand. He has given them trouble over the years due to his size, physicality and skill. So, getting him out of the game was a big break for the Wizards. Gibson just might be a little sore tomorrow.