NEW YORK — Boos rained down on Kristaps Porzingis as he walked among his Washington Wizards teammates during pregame introductions. The sound echoed throughout Madison Square Garden — New York fans showing their emotions with the return of a former Knick to a place he once starred.
Porzingis, despite the jeers, reminded Knicks supporters what they lost when New York traded him to Dallas in 2019. The player New York fans called “The Unicorn” during his time in Gotham started fast and scored 22 points before fouling out in a 116-105 Wizards win.
Kyle Kuzma flirted with a triple-double, scoring 27 points to go with 13 rebounds and seven assists. Bradley Beal, ending a five-game absence with a hamstring strain, added 18 points in 29 minutes.
“It felt good. That’s the biggest thing for me — just making sure it felt good,” Beal said of his balky left hamstring. “The return-to-play protocol we went over the last few weeks prepared me for this moment. So it was just good to be out there with the guys and play the minutes I was able to play.”
Beal was especially happy to be playing with a healthy Kuzma and Porzingis.
“Once we see what we’re able to do and we contribute to games like this, anything can happen,” Beal said. “The sky’s the limit for us. We’ve got a lot of ground to make up, but this definitely helps in that regard.”
Washington (19-26) never trailed. The victory broke a two-game skid and provided some relief after a stretch of five losses in six games.
“It’s a good sign that the guys can kind of put it together,” Coach Wes Unseld Jr. said of working Beal back into the rotation. “Seemed like the chemistry hasn’t changed at all in Brad’s absence. Overall, thought it was great. The best part about it, I thought, was overall defense.”
Porzingis, booed just about every time he touched the ball, added 11 rebounds and five assists. The only notable cheers he received came when he was whistled for his sixth foul with 1:15 remaining, sending him to the bench.
“It’s fun to play in the Garden,” he said. “It’s the best place to play basketball in the world. I miss this place a lot. The last few times I’ve been here, I’ve been booed and I’ve been receiving that kind of energy, but I enjoy playing here. And tonight was a good night for us.”
The Wizards were generally unbothered by the hostile road crowd as the starters — especially Kuzma, Beal and Porzingis — did the heavy lifting. Monte Morris (13 points) scored in double figures for his fifth straight game.
The Wizards’ defense gave the Knicks (25-21) problems, especially on the perimeter. New York shot just 26.9 percent from beyond the arc, missing 19 of its 26 attempts. The Wizards shot 16 for 42 (38.1 percent).
Jalen Brunson, serenaded with MVP chants at the free throw line, finished with 32 points and RJ Barrett added 21 for New York. Immanuel Quickley (18 points) tried to lead a one-man comeback early in the fourth quarter, but the Wizards responded with a 10-0 run, highlighted by back-to-back Kuzma baskets, to provide plenty of breathing room with a 17-point margin.
The Wizards took a 56-48 lead into halftime after sprinting out of the gate and putting the Knicks in an early hole. A heavy dose of Porzingis and Beal forged an early 14-3 lead, forcing a quick New York timeout. Kuzma looked to facilitate early, then got aggressive when Beal and Porzingis sat down, helping Washington take a 35-22 lead after the first quarter
Here’s what else to know about the Wizards’ win:
Beal looked rusty as he went through his pregame routine. As he moved around the floor, he watched miss after miss. More than once he looked at the ball bouncing off the rim with a mix of disgust and disbelief.
If there were any concerns, they dissipated during the Wizards’ opening possession, when they ran a set for him and Beal buried a jumper in the paint. A short while later, he made another jumper from the top of the key. He made 7 of 11 shots from the field.
“I’m rarely ever going to be rusty,” Beal said. “I’ve always prided myself on the mental aspect of the game and preparing myself and being confident in my game and the work I put in. It’s like riding a bike when I come back. The biggest thing is [to] make sure I got the win and everything else is checked off. I’m happy just to be back.”
Before the game, Unseld did not specify a minutes restriction for Beal, though he did say the Wizards would tread carefully.
The trade deadline is Feb. 9, making these next few weeks prime time for rumors and speculation. One such report came from the Athletic on Wednesday; it indicated the Wizards could deal forward Rui Hachimura.
Unseld said he does not feel a need to discuss speculation with players unless it’s absolutely necessary.
“If you see it’s bothering somebody — but that’s the nature of this sport,” he said. “That timetable every year, things get floated. Certainly can’t believe everything you read or hear. You certainly want guys to play with a clear mind and not worry about it. It’s not something they necessarily can control. But, in general, I think guys are in a good place.”