Kyle Kuzma had the ball in his hands in the final seconds for the second game in a row, but there was no miracle finish this time.
Kuzma had been on his own for much of the Wizards’ 112-108 loss to the New York Knicks, with Kristaps Porzingis starting slow, Bradley Beal in street clothes as he works his way back from a left hamstring strain and point guard Monte Morris out with hamstring soreness of his own. Kuzma’s task was to match Jalen Brunson, RJ Barrett and Julius Randle largely by himself.
He gave his team a chance by hitting two of three free throw attempts to put Washington within two points with 16 seconds to play, but Brunson followed with two of his own from the stripe.
The Wizards then missed two quality looks from the three-point line, one from Kuzma and another from Rui Hachimura, to seal their fate.
Kuzma’s season-high 40 points was a highlight of an otherwise subpar night of Wizards offense. He added seven rebounds and seven assists.
Porzingis worked his way up to 21 points, 12 of which came in the fourth quarter, and Corey Kispert, starting in place of Beal, added 13 starting.
It was back-and-forth affair until the Knicks got hot at the start of the fourth quarter, opening the first double-digit lead of the game with a cutting dunk from Isaiah Hartenstein — assisted by a streaking Immanuel Quickley — slicing through the defense to go up 89-79.
Quickley padded the lead with a three-point play a couple of minutes later to put the visitors up 15 before a desperate push from Washington (18-25) added some drama to the final minute.
Brunson led New York (24-19) with 34 points, eight assists and eight rebounds. Randle added 23 points and 16 rebounds, and Barrett had 17 points.
Quickley added 18 off the bench.
The Wizards’ slow start included an off-kilter shooting performance from Porzingis in the first half.
The big man returned from a one-game absence due to a rib contusion to face his former team and went 2-for-10 from the floor for just five points heading into the locker room, leaving Washington dependent on 18 points from Kuzma. Kispert helped create some movement with solid cutting and scored 10 points before intermission, but the Wizards were helped by the poor shooting of the Knicks, who went into halftime under 40 percent from the field.
Washington finished shooting 38.7 percent from the field.
Here’s what else you need to know from Friday’s less:
The Wizards announced Thursday that Beal had been cleared to resume basketball activities after a reevaluation of the left hamstring he strained on Jan. 3. On Friday, Coach Wes Unseld Jr. declined to put a timeline on Beal’s return and said the guard — having strained both of his hamstrings at separate times this season — would have to “check every box” before returning.
“He’s had a nice string of individual workouts, one-on-one vs. coaches, full court up and down, which is a good sign,” Unseld said. “Still want to make sure that we go through the ramp up process, give him the exposure he needs before we throw him out there.”
When Beal strained his right hamstring in December, the team announced he was cleared to resume basketball activities six days before he played in a game again.
Morris was out Friday with right hamstring soreness. Unseld said he woke up feeling discomfort Thursday morning and couldn’t get loose enough to play before the game.
Hachimura evens out
Hachimura was exactly what the Wizards needed when he returned from an ankle sprain and bone bruise in late December — fresh legs with a burst of energy that took pressure off teammates who’d exhausted themselves picking up slack because of the litany of injuries to the roster. In his first seven games back, the forward averaged 18 points, shot 58.3 percent from the field, 44 percent from the three-point line and matched a career-high 30-point performance.
He’s come down from that peak in the past week. Hachimura logged his first game of the season without a rebound against Oklahoma City last week (though he was hardly the only Wizard that struggled that night) and has been flat off the bench since. He had nine points and four rebounds against the Knicks — serviceable, but not what the Wizards needed on a night they were looking for more offense.
Porzingis isn’t the only Wizards player with ties to New York. Brooklyn-born big man Taj Gibson spent the previous three seasons with the Knicks and developed a tight bond with Coach Tom Thibodeau. When Gibson scored his lone bucket of the first half, he earned hearty applause at Capital One Arena — from all the Knicks fans in the crowd.
Taj Gibson checks in for the Wizards. A tear streaks down Tom Thibodeau's cheek.— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) January 14, 2023