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Corey Kispert’s hot shooting is not enough for the sinking Wizards

Orlando 116, Washington 109

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 31: Washington Wizards forward Corey Kispert (24), left his a 3 pointer over Orlando Magic forward Franz Wagner (22) during a game between the Washington Wizards and the Orlando Magic at Capital One Arena on March 31, 2023 in Washington, DC. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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For more than three quarters Friday night, the Washington Wizards just couldn’t help themselves — again. All the elements were there for a lottery position-protecting loss to the Orlando Magic, the spirited young team that just beat them March 21. They were without Bradley Beal (knee soreness) and Kyle Kuzma (ankle sprain) for the fifth straight game, and this time Kristaps Porzingis (non-covid illness) joined the pair on the injury list.

But Corey Kispert is a prolific three-point shooter. Delon Wright can’t turn off his defensive instincts, and Daniel Gafford isn’t going to throw away the chance at a double-double. So the Wizards led from early in the first quarter until midway through the fourth when they finally completed a collapse and lost, 116-109 — a result that might please a growing segment of Washington’s fan base.

They did so without starting point guard Monte Morris for one half. The point guard did not return after halftime because of soreness in his right ankle.

Kispert led the Wizards (43-34) with a career-high 27 points, all of which came on three-pointers. His nine long-range darts were one shy of the franchise’s single-game record set by Trevor Ariza in 2014 and matched Kispert’s high from college in a game when his Gonzaga team beat Virginia during his senior year.

Kispert found success with his typically good off-ball movement until Orlando’s zone defense slowed the Wizards and held them to just 13 points in the fourth quarter.

Still, Kispert’s final line provided encouragement for thinking of the future.

“It’s a huge step,” Wizards Coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “He was primarily a spot-up guy last year. Now he’s moving. [His teammates are] searching him out. I think that’s great early in the possession. He’s finding space and finding those windows on all those drive-and-kicks, and he seems to be getting the shot off quicker. That’s a heck of a weapon.”

Kispert was the primary beneficiary of an offense that had 24 assists on 41 field goals, and he thanked teammates for that.

“Obviously guys had to step up and be more aggressive,” Kispert said, “I had it rolling early and knew I had to step into that role a little bit. To shoot 14 threes in an NBA game, your teammates have got to be looking for you. … A lot of my stuff didn’t come off the dribble tonight, so credit to them for helping me out.”

Wright had 21 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Gafford added 18 points and a career-high 13 rebounds.

Washington held an 11-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter before Morris went out and Orlando (33-44) switched defenses.

Paolo Banchero, the runaway favorite for rookie of the year, had 30 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.

Here’s what else to know about the Wizards’ loss:

Standings update

The Wizards sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, three games behind the Chicago Bulls and out of serious contention for the play-in tournament. They hold the eighth-worst record in the league. Orlando is now just a game behind them.

Porzingis sits

Porzingis was a late addition to the injury report after Unseld said he had to rush off court during the team’s walk-around because of a stomach issue. The coach had no update on Morris’s ankle after the game.

Kispert’s career-high

Kispert hit his career high-tying sixth three-pointer with 3:29 left in the first half.

The 24-year-old is the fourth player in franchise history to knock down at least nine three-pointers in a game, joining Davis Bertans, who hit nine on Feb. 21, 2021; Beal, who hit nine on March 16, 2019; and Ariza, who made 10 on Feb. 12, 2014.