Beal, Porzingis lead Wizards over Sixers originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
The Washington Wizards beat the Philadelphia 76ers 121-111 on Wednesday night. Here are five takeaways from what went down...
After losing three straight games, and while beginning a stretch with three of four on the road, the Wizards found an extra gear in the closing minutes to knock off the Sixers in Philly, just steps away from where the city will now turn its attention to Game 4 of the World Series.
The Sixers were without perennial MVP candidate Joel Embiid, but that didn't matter on Monday when they beat the Wizards in Washington. On Wednesday, James Harden (24 points, 10 assists) and Tyrese Maxey (32 points) once again put up a good fight, but the Wizards' top players also brought their best.
Bradley Beal had a breakout offensive performance after struggling in his previous two games. He had 29 points, including 14 points in the third, a season-high for him in a single quarter. Beal shot 11-for-17 and added five assists.
Kyle Kuzma was also much better. He had only nine points in each of the previous two games and on Monday only took five shots. But Kuzma found his groove in the second half to score 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting with eight rebounds and four assists.
The Wizards evened up their record at 4-4. They return home to face the Nets on Friday. Brooklyn just fired head coach Steve Nash and Ben Simmons has been out with a knee injury. It could be a good time to face them.
Just like in Monday's game, the Wizards found success with Kristaps Porzingis going up against Philly's small-ball lineups. This time, he had more help from his teammates which made his scoring that much more effective. Porzingis got hot early with 11 points in the first quarter and ended up with 30 points and nine rebounds. He shot 9-for-13. It was the fourth time in five games he's scored at least 20 and his second straight with 30-plus.
There are a few plays in this game which served as a reminder that he's so tall, basically no one can block his shot. On several plays, he shot over defenders who were right in his face and doing all they could to block the attempt. In the first half, he cleared the 6-foot-8 Tobias Harris on a contested midrange jumper and made it look easy. Porzingis also made an impact on the other end with three blocks, including one on Matisse Thybulle where he basically just snatched it out of the air with both hands.
Paint defense has generally been a strength for the Wizards this season, as they came into this game allowing the fewest paint points of any team (40.6/g). That carried over on Wednesday as they outdid the Sixers 68-to-38 in the paint, much better than on Monday when they lost that battle despite Embiid being injured.
The Wizards are also very good at blocking shots, ranking 7th in blocks per game (6.0). They had nine blocks in this one. In addition to Porzingis' three blocks, Deni Avdija also had three himself. Daniel Gafford, Rui Hachimura and Will Barton each had a block apiece. In fact, every player who appeared on the Wizards' bench had at least one block. While the Wizards' defense has measured out to be fairly average so far, with the 16th-ranked defensive rating, what they are doing in the lane is one of the best signs they could be pretty good on that end of the court.
The Wizards continue to have issues making their long range shots. They entered this game ranked 26th in the NBA in made threes (10.3/g) and 19th in percentage (35.1), but they didn't help their standing in this one. The Wizards went just 5-for-21 from deep, good for 23.8%. Once again that created a small margin for error, as the Wizards would have had much more breathing room if they just knocked down a few more threes. The Sixers were much better, hitting on 19-for-36 (52.8%).
The Wizards made the fewest threes in the NBA last year and, while they didn't address the need in a major way this past offseason, they did have reason to expect improvement. It hasn't really conveyed yet, but perhaps the good news is Corey Kispert hasn't debuted and should return soon. He has a chance to be their best 3-point shooter and should be close to playing. Wednesday marked exactly four weeks since his left ankle sprain was diagnosed with a four-to-six-week recovery timeline.
Head coach Wes Unseld Jr. had been giving rookie Johnny Davis the minutes left behind by Delon Wright since he went down with a hamstring injury, but in this game he cut the rotation down to nine players. Gafford only played 11 minutes and Anthony Gill only played 16. It was essentially a playoff-type rotation, as Unseld Jr. stuck to the guys he felt like he could rely on.
Unseld Jr. also went big to counter the Sixers' small lineups. At one point, he had Beal out as the point guard alongside Avdija, Hachimura, Kuzma and Porzingis. Avdija was probably the 2-guard in that set and he's 6-foot-9. That's a massive lineup. The big picture takeaway from the shorter rotation and that lineup is that Unseld Jr. is starting to push different buttons to get the best out of his roster. On this particular night, it helped lead to a win.