Sports

Wizards Off to Solid Start

The Washington Wizards remade their roster this offseason, starting with a trade of Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers for a gaggle of players that the Lakers decided were expendable.

Those players — Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — have injected new life into the Wizards roster. They came to Washington with chips on their shoulders, resulting in some rare early-season wins for the Wiz.

Bradley Beal, who was injured in the final preseason game but intent on playing in the regular-season opener, put up 23 points in the team’s first win in Toronto.

But when Beal’s injured hip kept him out of the second game, the home opener against the Indiana Pacers, the new roster additions showed up, chips and all.

Kuzma, who had expressed excitement about playing a bigger part of a team’s success, notched a double-double with 11 points and 15 rebounds. With Wiz big man Thomas Bryant out to start the year, Kuzma’s presence on the boards will be key to helping the team get off to a good start.

The Wiz celebrated the win by dousing coach Wes Unseld Jr. with water. It was his first win as a head coach in the NBA.

Washington Wizards guard Raul Neto shoots a floater during a 135-134 win over the Indiana Pacers at Capital One Arena in D.C. on Oct. 22. (Abdullah Konte/The Washington Informer)
Washington Wizards guard Raul Neto shoots a floater during a 135-134 win over the Indiana Pacers at Capital One Arena in D.C. on Oct. 22. (Abdullah Konte/The Washington Informer)

Unseld, whose father, the late franchise legend Wes Sr., was named a part of NBA All Time 75 team, said after the game, “I just like the way we played. … We knew at the start they were going to play with high energy and be very physical. We weathered the storm and made shots early.”

Game 2 without Beal was the Wizards’ home opener at Capital One Arena. Unseld knew one of his guys would have to step up to overcome to the Pacers and get their second win. The question was, who?

Spencer Dinwiddie another offseason addition stepped in as the team’s point guard, scored 34 points as the Wizards in a thriller won 135-134 in overtime. Kuzma chipped in with 26 points. Kuzma said after the game, “Obviously, Brad being out, I can still be aggressive, and my volume’s going to be higher. “If he’s in playing, I might be lower (in volume). But I’m going to play the same every game.”

This was destined to be a high-scoring game as the score was 73-73 at the end of the first half. Despite falling behind in the overtime period as the Pacers scored the first six points, the Wizards got a couple of big three-pointers from Dinwiddie, who missed a three at the end of regulation to win the game, and Davis Bertans, the team’s ace three-point shooter.

What makes this season exciting is the fact that the Wizards have players that come from situations where they weren’t a good fit or weren’t able to contribute as much as they liked, so they are champing at the bit to have an opportunity. The success of this season does not solely lie on the shoulders of franchise player Beal, the roster that GM Tommy Shepherd has built has depth.

The team has won a game without Beal, and one of the roster’s key players Rui Hachimura hasn’t seen much action yet, so there’s no telling how high the ceiling is for this team is once Rui, Beal and rookie sharpshooter Corey Kispert get going.

After a hot start winning their first two games, Beal came back to the lineup Monday against Brooklyn not having a great shooting touch, and the Nets beat the Wizards easily after jumping out to a big first-quarter lead and never looking back. The Nets won 104-90. A first quarter in which the Wizards were outscored 38-20 was too much to overcome. The team was 9-39 from beyond the arc, with 10 of those misses going to Beal, who was 3-13. That’s not good enough to beat anyone, especially not an Eastern Conference finalist.

Unseld and his team hope they get their shooting touch back as they travel up the road to the TD Garden in Boston to face the Celtics.

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