The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Wizards find their form when it matters to notch a win over the Hornets

Wizards 108, Hornets 100

Kyle Kuzma paced the Wizards with 20 points Monday night. (Jacob Kupferman/AP)

CHARLOTTE — As the Washington Wizards continue to work on finding an identity in Coach Wes Unseld Jr.’s second season, they have plenty of options.

Take their past four games. Are they the crisp, versatile upstarts with a snappy offensive trio at their core, as they were in an excellent win at Philadelphia last week? Or are they listless teammates who couldn’t muster enough energy in preparation for Kevin Durant, as they were in a terrible home loss to Brooklyn? Or could they be feisty underdogs who gave the host Memphis Grizzlies fits at times without star guard Bradley Beal in a narrow loss Sunday?

Monday night’s 108-100 win at the Charlotte Hornets may have featured Washington’s truest form yet. Those Wizards, who clearly had more talent than their hosts (even as Beal missed his second straight game while in the NBA’s health and safety protocols after testing positive for the coronavirus), outlasted the Hornets. They survived a turnover-riddled first half and snapped to attention on offense to beat a team with three wins to its name.

They extended Charlotte’s losing streak to five and dropped the Hornets to 3-8, but …

“That was a game of the ages,” Unseld noted sarcastically.

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After a sloppy showing by both sides, the Wizards (5-6) finally grabbed the momentum when Kyle Kuzma got going late in the fourth quarter and Washington was able to get stops — or simply take advantage of Charlotte’s many misses.

“My messaging to them was we’ve got to continue to build. At times, I didn’t like the way we played — got sloppy, at times looked a little selfish,” Unseld said. “We know it’s hard to win — second night of a back-to-back, on the road, you’re down a man, all that. This is life in the NBA. And it’s most important that you can continue to build the right habits. It was good to get the win, and like I said, we had some really good moments. But we had some stretches there where we have to clean that up and make sure — I think we’re a better group than that.”

Kuzma led four Wizards in double figures with 20 points, and Kristaps Porzingis added 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Two-way player Jordan Goodwin had a career-high 17 points on 7-for-7 shooting and chipped in five assists and four rebounds.

Kuzma’s late surge — he had nine points in the fourth quarter — helped seal the deal as Charlotte’s shooting cratered.

“I liked his energy,” Unseld said. “He had some nagging bumps, but he pushed through.”

The Hornets shot 41.6 percent. P.J. Washington led the way with 25 points.

The first half was the ugliest stretch of basketball the Wizards have been a part of all season — even uglier than their blowout loss to Brooklyn on Friday because in that game at least Durant was on the floor. The Hornets don’t have anyone within a mile of his talent, but Washington played down to their level just one night after battling the far stronger Grizzlies.

Neither team cracked 50 points before heading to the locker room Monday. They combined to make 4 of 13 three-pointers and worked their way to 15 turnovers. At least Charlotte was playing to type: The Hornets are the fourth-worst shooting team in the league. The Wizards just couldn’t make a shot, but they figured it out later.

Here’s what else you need to know about Monday’s win:

Three-point woes

The Wizards made a paltry 5 of 19 shots from the three-point line, but at least they weren’t alone. The Hornets made 5 of 32.

A packed schedule

The NBA’s attempt to emphasize civic engagement by not holding games on Election Day meant Monday’s slate offered a smorgasbord of basketball: 15 games with all 30 teams in action and the matchups tipping off every 15 minutes. The Wizards and the Hornets went first, tipping at 7 p.m.

Gafford returns

Center Daniel Gafford checked out with 1:19 remaining in the first quarter and walked straight to the locker room holding what appeared to be his left collarbone or shoulder. The Wizards said he had a neck strain, but the backup center returned with 3:21 left in the third quarter and finished the game, notching five points and seven rebounds. That was good news for Washington, which can hardly afford another absence beyond Beal and backup guard Delon Wright (hamstring).

Unseld said after the game that he thought the injury would not limit Gafford’s activity going forward.

Hachimura off the bench

Rui Hachimura had 16 points and gave the Wizards a big lift off the bench, where he has been solid, if not eye-popping, all season.

The deadline for players to sign extensions on their rookie scale deals passed last month without Hachimura landing one, and his responsibilities have shrunk slightly in his fourth year after beginning his Wizards career as a starter. He played a starring role during Washington’s preseason trip to Japan but entered Monday’s game averaging a career-low 10.5 points.