The Washington Wizards defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 113-103 on Saturday night. Here are five takeaways from what happened…
5 in a row
With the Feb. 9 trade deadline looming, the Wizards are on a very important five-game road trip, and they’re up to the challenge. They beat the Pelicans on Saturday night for their fifth straight win, tying a season high, and started their road trip with their third straight win.
The Wizards have now won 12 of 18 games since a 10-game losing streak in November and December. In this game, they got revenge on a Zion Williamson-less New Orleans team that beat them in D.C. earlier this month. The Pelicans are currently on a seven-game losing streak.
Washington is 23-26 on the season and is tied with the Chicago Bulls for 10th in the Eastern Conference, the final spot in the playoffs. The Wizards are just two games away from the eighth seed and are now just six games away from the trade deadline.
garford is gone
For the third straight game without Kristaps Porzingis in the starting lineup, Daniel Gafford had his best game of the season. He had a solid performance with 14 points in the first half, setting the pace with 21 points (a season high), 12 rebounds (a season high) and 5 blocks.
Gafford was ubiquitous on both ends of the court, often putting on strong plays. He had to reach for a pass from Bradley Beal in the first half, and he completed a huge alley-oop dunk in the first half. Shortly after, he rejected Jose Alvarado’s floater attempt to get into the sidelines. Since Gafford was promoted to the starting lineup, he’s done really well for the Wizards, and he’s done it with or without Porzingis, and that’s a testament to him.
Kuzma fights for victory
This game is a great example of how Kyle Kuzma’s value can go beyond his numbers. He played the right way as a willing passer and defender, and on this particular night, his scoring came at a sacrifice. Kuzma went scoreless in the first half on just four shots. He had just two field goal attempts before just over a minute left in the second quarter. Remember, he’s in a contract year and making final presentations for his first All-Star selection.
Kuzma is giving up his looks to make extra passes and allow others to get better shots. He also spent a lot of energy defending All-Star Brandon Ingram, his former teammate with the Lakers. Ingram shot hot and made his first three shots. But Kuzma helped him go 1 for 8 in the first half. Ingram scored 22 points on 8-of-22 shooting with six turnovers, and the Wizards will consider his talent.
Meanwhile, Kuzma was more aggressive in finding his shot in the third quarter. He had 10 points in the second half, along with nine rebounds, five assists, a block and a steal.
The Wizards traded their best bench scorer earlier in the week, but in those three games, someone else stepped up to fill the void. The game was a team effort, with the Wizards’ four players coming off the bench scoring a combined 44 points, beating the Hornets’ second unit with 39 points.
Deni Avdija led the way with 15 points and nine rebounds as he stayed in the paint with his aggressive attack in transition and catch-and-move right side. Taj Gibson had 9 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 block. Kendrick Nunn had 12 points and Delon Wright had eight.
The contribution from the bench was essential, as Kuzma wasn’t scoring at his usual pace and the Beals struggled for most of their time with Herb Jones. He scored 16 points on 5-for-17 shooting with five turnovers. However, Bill made some key shots at the last moment to seal the victory.
Valanciunas sent off
Gibson was part of the scoring effort of the second unit, and he also scored a goal for his team in the first half. While defending in the low post, he elbowed Pelicans big man Jonas Valanciunas in the head. The initial call was for a foul on Gibson, but the referee’s review determined that Valanciunas committed a malicious 2. This got him ejected from the game.
Valanciunas may not be a star, but he’s a great player, and the Wizards know that first hand. He’s given them trouble over the years because of his size, athleticism and skill. So, having him off the floor was a big break for the Wizards. Gibson might be a little sore tomorrow.