Kyle Kuzma is no stranger to making a statement while wearing pink.
Kuzma electrified Capital One Arena with a pair of pivotal three-pointers early in the fourth quarter on his way to a season-high 36 points to go with 11 rebounds and six assists, inspiring gusty bellows of “KUUUUUZ!” from the crowd. And thanks to the Wizards debuting their cherry blossom-themed jerseys, he did it all while decked out in pink.
“Maybe it’s his color,” Coach Wes Unseld Jr. said with a laugh. “Wears it well. Just feels more comfortable — I don’t know.”
Washington (6-6) was without Beal, Porzingis, third-string center Taj Gibson (neck) and backup point guard Delon Wright (hamstring) but posted one of its best wins of the season anyway — against Doncic, no less. The Slovenian wunderkind has been on an MVP-like tear and entered Thursday leading the NBA at 34.8 points per game.
The Wizards held him to 22 points on 8-for-21 shooting, backstopping Kuzma’s offense with competent defense that kept Doncic at bay during the game’s most crucial moments. Doncic also had nine rebounds and six assists.
Washington excelled in areas in which it usually struggles. It made 12 of 30 attempts from the three-point line, with Kuzma connecting on 5 of 11. And after Dallas (6-5) started hot from beyond the arc, the Wizards were able to lock in on defense and slow a first-quarter spurt.
Commish in da house to see Kuzma go ballistic pic.twitter.com/KnYvN4MzbO— NBC Sports Wizards (@NBCSWizards) November 11, 2022
“It was a big-time win,” Kuzma said. “We’ve been struggling a little bit. Had some bodies down. Brad’s got covid, KP’s out, lineup’s been switched around a little bit. . . . There’s been a lot of movement. The starting lineup’s changed. But I think tonight was just a great night to play basketball. Everybody that was in the game was ready to play, understood the assignment and just went out there and executed. It was beautiful. It was probably our best game all year — no question.”
Without Porzingis, Unseld started forward Anthony Gill over backup center Daniel Gafford to keep his lineup small and mobile against the Mavericks’ pick and roll.
The Wizards were slow in their rotations at first as Dallas worked the three-point line to open a 22-8 lead. But Washington nudged its way back into the game by guarding Doncic straight up rather than double-teaming him — and making the most of the time he was off the floor — as well as leaning on its bench to kick the offense into gear. Doncic had five points in the first quarter and just two in six minutes in the second.
“A couple doubles and we didn’t do a good job of rotating, being there, being in the right place [on defense],” Kuzma said. “We cleared it up. As the game kept going, we did a good job with the attention to details.”
Kuzma provided a steady drip of scoring throughout, but Rui Hachimura’s performance in the third quarter gave Washington a sense of control. The forward had a dunk, a three-pointer and an up-and-under layup in quick succession early in the period.
“Ooooh, it was nice,” Hachimura said when asked about his layup. “I saw it after the game. I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ Sometimes I practice layups like that, just to mess around. So, yeah, I was actually impressed by it.”
Hachimura helped the Wizards’ bench outscore Dallas’s 50-25. His confidence was infectious: With 4:59 to play, Washington whipped the ball around the arc until it landed with Kuzma, who nailed a three from the corner to put Washington up 79-77.
Hachimura stepped up to support Kuzma with 23 points and Will Barton added 14 points — enough to weather former Wizard Spencer Dinwiddie’s 33 points for Dallas.
Here’s what else to know about the Wizards’ win:
Porzingis is day-to-day
Porzingis made the Wizards’ already lengthy injury report even longer.
He suffered his injury during Monday’s win at Charlotte after taking a hit to his groin. Though he was able to finish the game, “he was very uncomfortable with it,” Unseld said. Porzingis worked out Thursday morning, got treatment and tried to loosen up but wasn’t moving as well as the Wizards would have liked.
Unseld said he will be listed as day-to-day, which is good news with his team facing a back-to-back vs. Utah and Memphis on Saturday and Sunday.
The Wizards are hoping Beal can clear the NBA’s coronavirus protocols sooner rather than later. He tested positive Saturday, and Unseld said his symptoms have subsided “quite a bit.”
Success on the boards
Washington outrebounded Dallas 52-41 and limited the Mavericks to seven second-chance points. Gafford had 10 rebounds to go with 11 points, and Hachimura added eight boards.
Dinwiddie lit up his former team from the three-point line. He made a season-high seven threes and hit them in demoralizing fashion, shooting without hesitation and barely touching the rim against the organization that traded him at the deadline last season.
When asked how long it took for him to get over the trade, Dinwiddie said not long at all. But reports that he was disliked in Washington’s locker room bothered him. Dinwiddie said Thursday that, while he asked questions about the team’s seemingly unclear hierarchy and Unseld’s manner of doling out playing time, they were natural and honest inquiries.
“I didn’t really too much care,” he said. “I just didn’t like being kicked out the door on the way out with false narratives.”