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Surging Wizards surprise the Heat, stretch their winning streak to two

Surging Wizards surprise the Heat, stretch their winning streak to two

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 2

MIAMI — Smiles have returned to the Washington Wizards’ locker room. Music, too.

After their 110-108 win over the Miami Heat on Sunday night, the Wizards flashed some happy faces for a change. Kyle Kuzma (game-high 32 points) and Tyus Jones (game-high 16 assists, just one turnover) were among the heroes as the Wizards (11-53) posted back-to-back wins for just the second time this season. Sunday also brought just their second victory over a team with a winning record.

Jones wasn’t completely satisfied, though.

“I’m mad at the [one] turnover,” he said after being charged with his lone miscue on a lob pass to Patrick Baldwin Jr. in the first quarter. “I threw it too high. He couldn’t catch it clean. That one was on me. That will eat at me.”

Jones, who is averaging 10.9 assists over his past dozen games, acknowledged the Wizards’ progress since they ended a franchise record-tying 16-game losing streak Friday against the visiting Charlotte Hornets.

“We’re working,” he said. “It’s good to see our hard work paying off. When you get a win, it validates that.”

Miami (35-29), which fell to the Denver Nuggets in the NBA Finals last season, led by as many as 11 points Sunday. But the Wizards fought back with their three-point shooting: They finished 16 for 39 (41.0 percent).

The Wizards took their first lead of the second half, at 91-90, on Kuzma’s pull-up three-pointer with 8:17 left. That lead was stretched to 110-100 on another Kuzma three, this one with 2:45 to go. Jones got the assist on both of those big buckets.

“That’s what he does,” Kuzma said of Jones’s ability to find the open man. “He’s done that his entire life. He plays poised and confident, and he doesn’t make too many mistakes.”

Following the second of those Kuzma three-pointers — he shot 2 for 7 from the perimeter for the game — the Heat rallied with eight straight points to cut its deficit to two points with 31.5 seconds left.

“We got a little stagnant, a little slow,” Wizards interim coach Brian Keefe said.

Things got worse for the Wizards before they got better: Kuzma was charged with an offensive foul with 12.2 seconds left, giving the Heat a chance to tie or win.

But Miami’s best three-point shooter, Duncan Robinson, missed from deep. Jimmy Butler grabbed the long rebound, but his wide-open three also was off, giving the Wizards the victory.

Keefe praised Kuzma’s performance, which also included nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks. With Richaun Holmes (toe) and Marvin Bagley III (back) out of the lineup, Keefe played Kuzma — who’s listed at 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds — at center.

“We had to go smaller,” Keefe said. “[Kuzma] did a great job on defense even though he wasn’t playing his normal position. On offense, he was attacking. He was getting into the paint and facilitating for others.”

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Jones said he could tell Kuzma — who has averaged 28 points over his past five contests — was “ready to go” before the game even started.

“He was locked in,” Jones said. “That opens up his game so much more when he is relentlessly putting pressure on the defense, getting to the rim.”

Kuzma’s aggressiveness was evidenced by his game-high 16 free throws; he made 12 of those to obscure a rough night from the field (9 for 23). That’s usually Butler’s game, too. But even though he had a team-high 23 points, the Wizards limited his trips to the foul line (5 for 6).

“I tried to play downhill,” said Kuzma, who has scored at least 20 points in eight straight games. “I tried to play through contact.”

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Kuzma accomplished both of those goals, and his hard-nosed effort helped create space for Corey Kispert (22 points, six assists, five rebounds, 5 for 10 on three-pointers) and Deni Avdija (16 points, 10 rebounds, 7 for 14 from the field).

Jones, who fell one shy of his career high in assists, repeatedly got the ball to the right shooter, and he avoided mistakes for the most part. That’s why he leads the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio (7.4), and it’s also a big reason the Wizards were victorious again Sunday.

“We were sharing the ball in the paint,” said Jones, who deflected individual praise. “We were making the defense collapse. We were trusting each other.”

Besides all the assists, Jones performed one other key duty Sunday: He played the music in the postgame locker room, including “Last Night” by Morgan Wallen. The Wizards, who will seek a season-best three-game winning streak Tuesday at Memphis, must be hoping a line in that song sums up their situation: “Something’s telling me this ain’t over yet. / No way it was our last night.”

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