Washington lost, 114-104, to the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday night at Capital One Arena, but if there is one thing the Wizards could take from a game in which the odds were stacked high against them from the start, it is that Hachimura seems to be coming into his own at last.
On another night without Bradley Beal, who was out for the second straight game with a right hip contusion, Hachimura stepped up alongside Russell Westbrook, leading the Wizards with 30 points. Not even counting center Thomas Bryant, who is out for the season with a torn ACL, the Wizards (17-29) were down five players, so Hachimura stepped into a starring role.
His strong performance wasn’t just for lack of other options, though; the forward has been hard-charging for some time. He entered Tuesday’s game averaging 17.5 points, shooting 52.3 percent, converting 39.4 percent from three-point range and pulling in 7.3 rebounds in 11 games since the all-star break — a considerable bump in production after an injury-laden start to the season. He attributed his uptick to two things: playing with more force on offense and Westbrook’s tutelage.
“Just [being] aggressive, especially offensively,” he said. “Even defense. . . . I can guard one through five, so I’ve just got to keep doing it. Hopefully we’ll start winning games.”
Hachimura was just as active against the Hornets (24-22) as he was against the Indiana Pacers in a win the night before, making 12 of 25 shots from the field before ceding the spotlight to Westbrook in the fourth quarter as the Wizards trailed by single digits.
“Rui, I’m telling you, he’s coming along. He still has a few more levels of getting better, and that’s the thing I love about him,” Wizards Coach Scott Brooks said. “. . . We’re going to see him become really like a high-, high-level player because he’s just learning how to play smaller players on the defensive end.”
For much of the night, it was Westbrook who set up Hachimura. The same point guard who sat during back-to-backs in the first half of the season had his second triple-double in as many nights. He followed Monday’s historic performance (35 points, 21 assists and 14 rebounds) with 22 points, 15 rebounds and 14 assists Tuesday for his league-leading 17th triple-double of the season.
Westbrook is the third player in NBA history to have consecutive games with at least 20 points, 15 rebounds and 14 assists. Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson are the others, both achieving their feats in the 1960s.
But Hachimura, Westbrook and three other double-digit scorers weren’t enough to keep Charlotte at bay after a superb start by Gordon Hayward, who had 26 points. Terry Rozier scored 27 as the Hornets shot 46.7 percent overall and 41.2 percent from three-point range, picking on the Wizards’ perimeter defense all night.
“They have a lot of guys who can score,” Hachimura said. “. . . They made tough shots, but also if they missed, when they missed, we didn’t get rebounds. We just gave up second chances; that’s what hurt us. We’ve got to be more solid. All the young guys, we’ve got to step up more, especially defensively.”
The Wizards’ scoring options were slim Tuesday after Washington added another player to its injured ranks: Backup point guard Raul Neto, who has been dealing with a left rib contusion for a few weeks but hadn’t missed a game, joined Beal, backup point guard Ish Smith (quadriceps) and forward Davis Bertans (right calf strain) on the sideline.
Recently acquired center Daniel Gafford was out, too, with a right high ankle sprain after a fall in Monday’s game. Gafford had an MRI exam Tuesday and will be reevaluated in approximately 10 days.
With the Wizards’ guard numbers thinning, rookie Cassius Winston, who is on a two-way contract and spent time in the G League bubble this season, played 11 minutes and scored three points. But it was center Robin Lopez who shined off the bench, turning in 16 points and 11 rebounds.
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