The Washington Wizards are back on a winning track after their horrid 10-game losing streak in December. They held on to beat the Philadelphia 76ers, 116-111 despite a monster performance from Joel Embiid. They’ve won three of their last four games and things may be looking up for them. Well, as long as Bradley Beal bounces back from the injury he suffered in the fourth quarter. The team was in good spirits in the post-game press conference and provided us with some interesting nuggets about where the Wizards are right now.
Head Coach Wes Unseld, Jr.
On Beal’s injury: “[He had] just, like, a left hamstring soreness. It’s the opposite hamstring. So we’ll we’ll let him get evaluated. And we’re not really sure. At this point, you know, the severity.” (Question from Josh Robbins)
Why it matters? This team just can’t catch a break, injury-wise. They just got healthy for essentially the first time this season. Beal left Tuesday’s game with 4:17 left in the fourth quarter after Joel Embiid rolled up on the back of his leg. He immediately motioned to the bench for a sub and limped to the locker room. He missed over two weeks earlier this month with the aforementioned injury to his other hamstring. Hopefully, this is nothing major.
On finding minutes with a healthy roster: “We knew, at some point, we’d get to where you have bodies back, and we have a lot of depth. At times, guys are going to get squeezed and I’ve had conversations with most of them. But I think guys are just bought into trying to get ourselves back on track and winning games.” (Question from Christy Winters-Scott)
Why it matters? Will Barton, Jordan Goodwin, and Anthony Gill did not play despite being healthy against the Sixers. Joel Embiid required more minutes for the team’s bigs, which led to Barton and Goodwin getting squeezed. Corey Kispert and Delon Wright playing over those two seems surprising. But, Kispert’s offensive movement and Wright’s pesky defense made them better suited for Philadelphia. It’ll be a tricky dance to keep everyone happy, but the team has options as long as they’re healthy.
On the two-big lineup: “With the two-big lineup, something that we’re kind of going with right now, it does change the complexion of things a bit. Kuz is more accustomed to being guarded by fours, where he can play in space and has a little bit more freedom. As does KP against traditional fives so it’s gonna look a little different. I think there’s a little bit of a learning curve when you do it for a stretch, or you do it for a game, and now you’re going to do it for a handful of games.” (Question from David Aldridge)
Why it matters? The Wizards are going to stick with Kyle Kuzma, Daniel Gafford, and Kristaps Porzingis in the starting lineup for a little while longer. The trio started in each of the last two games, both Wizards wins. As a three-man lineup, they’ve put up a +24 net rating in a small sample size of 49 minutes. The lineup seems funky on paper, but it’s worth seeing what they can do for at least one more game.
On what he liked about having Gafford start: “That I didn’t have to guard [Embiid]. It’s not an easy job. Taj [Gibson] and [Gafford] had to use their fouls and try to be as physical as they can with him. I was able to just stand in the corner with PJ Tucker a little bit, so that kind of allowed me to maybe have some more energy on offense.”
Why it matters? KP is describing the key benefit to starting a traditional center next to him. He’s been the team’s offensive engine at times and makes the rest of the offense flow better. Simply put, Washington needs him on the floor and getting after it on offense. This lineup gives him a better chance of doing both of those things. Whether or not DC can stick to the lineup in the long term will depend on Gafford’s growth and Porzingis’s ability to guard on the perimeter.
On how to improve defensively: “I think we just need to make sure [that we] clarify what we have to do each game. We sometimes just go to the game and we just don’t know what we’re doing. So we just gotta communicate. It’s on players, but also the coaches.” (Question from Gabe Ibrahim)
Why it matters? Hachimura (and everyone else around this team) knows that they have to improve defensively to save this season. The Wizards held Philadelphia to a pedestrian 112.2 offensive rating in this game, according to Cleaning The Glass. But they got a lot of help from Philly’s poor three-point shooting and the win featured plenty of mistakes that have plagued the Wizards this year. Hachimura made a few of them. While every bad defense has communication issues, it seems that Hachimura is asking for more guidance before the game because he hasn’t developed sharp defensive instincts yet. He has been good enough offensively to balance out his defensive shortcomings. But, he’ll need to develop defensively to warrant a big contract in restricted free agency this season.