WASHINGTON - There weren’t many positives in Washington’s 130-122 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night, but Kelly Oubre Jr.’s encouraging play was certainly one of them.
Instead of wearing all black to send a message, the Wizards just talked a lot before facing the Cavaliers hours later. Oubre didn’t do his talking to the media, instead, he let his jacket do the talking. Even though a fine of some sort is expected, at least he backed up his antics in the national spotlight.
With Markieff Morris making his season debut, Oubre was moved to the bench, but it didn’t slow him down as he scored a career-high 21 points, connected on 5 of 7 three-pointers, grabbed a team-high 6 rebounds, dished out 2 assists and picked up one steal.
“He’s growing up right in front of our eyes,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after Friday’s game against Cleveland. “The maturity level, being a consistent pro on and off the court is getting better night in and night out. I’m going to continue to develop and work with him to try and get him better, as the season goes on. And next season, he’s going to be even better, and that’s the big thing about our group, we have a lot of guys that should be getting better every year.”
During the game, ESPN broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy couldn’t stop raving about the growth in his game. It gave Wizards fans hope that eventually, he'll get to the point where he can score more consistently and lead the second unit. But while Oubre had some nice moments against Cleveland, he also had some “Welcome to playing against LeBron James” moments.
James was 7 of 10 on post-ups against the Wizards, one of the best post-up games in his career. He made 14 shots in the restricted area, the most of his career. Washington had no answer for him.
Even Oubre’s length didn't faze him. Out of the four players matched on James the most throughout the night, the 21-year-old Oubre was the only player who couldn’t get at least one stop. “Whenever you're hitting tough, hand and your face turn around fadeaways off the left and right shoulder that's your night,” Oubre said. “I mean, I didn't even know, he was trying to break a record until halftime, but he definitely got that. He was just on another level tonight."
As Oubre respected the performance James delivered on Friday, the third year forward out of Kansas acknowledged the defense must step up if the Wizards want to take the next step. Cleveland shot 56.1 percent from the field. Before holding Cleveland to 26 fourth-quarter points, Washington had given up 30 or more through six straight quarters, going back to Wednesday’s game against the Suns. They gave up 74 points leading at intermission and couldn’t grab the lead at any point during the second half.
“We've got to pick it up. You know, we’ve got to pick it up,” Oubre said after the game. “Something has got to change if we want to continue to be great. We're already headed in that direction so we know, we're doing a lot of self-evaluation and you know, the defense is the mean thing right now that we need to focus on. You know, it's about effort and that's just doing it."
The encouraging thing for Oubre is that on a night where he posted career-best numbers, there were still plenty of ways for him to improve. On Sunday, we’ll see how he and the rest of the team respond after Friday’s humbling loss.