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Wizards stay in the fight but fall short at home to the Lakers

Wizards stay in the fight but fall short at home to the Lakers

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 1

The Washington Wizards turned in a win against the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday that looked a lot like progress near the end of the first year of a rebuild. They ran fast, whipped the ball around as though it burned their fingers and played selflessly.

Something they haven’t quite mastered yet? Duplicating that effort 24 hours later.

They came close at times Wednesday night in a 125-120 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers at Capital One Arena. Credit to the undersized and undermanned Wizards — they were so pesky that, after Lakers Coach Darvin Ham pulled his starters with 1:21 to play and his team up 13, the hosts cut their deficit to five and forced Ham to sub LeBron James and Co. back into the game for the closing moments.

That’s progress, too, even against a messy Lakers team clinging to ninth place in the Western Conference at 44-33. The previous three games the Wizards played on no rest ended in a 26-point loss (to the East-leading Boston Celtics), a 25-point loss (to the playoff-bound Los Angeles Clippers) and a 41-point loss (to Oklahoma City, part of the West’s elite). Winning both games of a back-to-back is a challenge for experienced, playoff-bound teams. The Wizards (15-62) have time to get there.

“Our resolve and stick-to-itiveness was good,” interim coach Brian Keefe said. “That’s the stuff that we want to see. Not happy with not winning the game, but we stuck with it, and we stayed together through the tough times and that’s what you want to see from your group.”

For now, the Wizards finished their final back-to-back of the season having lost all 13 second-leg games. Jordan Poole led Washington with 29 points and added five assists. Kyle Kuzma had 17 points and 12 rebounds against his former team. Once again, it was the end of the bench that made the final push that gave Ham a scare — forward Eugene Omoruyi hit a layup, then Justin Champagnie hit consecutive three-pointers.

“Credit a lot of those guys: JC did a great job, Jared Butler, Patrick Baldwin, [Anthony Gill]. At the very end, they really made that run,” Kuzma said. “A lot of those guys are tired, played in the G League the other day. … We just didn’t have enough to close.”

Part of that was because the Lakers dominated the boards behind an 18-rebound effort from Anthony Davis. The Lakers center had 35 points and went 15 for 15 from the free throw line with the Wizards missing starting center Marvin Bagley III, who sprained his right knee Tuesday.

James added 25 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.

The Wizards did well to slow the Lakers in the second half with an effectively deployed zone defense that forced Los Angeles to shoot from the perimeter and changed the pace of the game. Still, the visitors capitalized on small mistakes — dominating the boards meant they got 18 second-chance points and scored 29 points off 18 Wizards turnovers.

Here’s what else to know about the Wizards’ loss:

Bagley looked grim as he hopped off the court with assistance Tuesday after spraining his knee. But further examination, including imaging, did not suggest surgery is needed, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

It’s hard to believe because of how much change has happened here since, but Rui Hachimura returned Wednesday to Capital One Arena to face the team that drafted him for the first time since he was traded more than 15 months ago.

Hachimura looked right at home. The 26-year-old forward had 19 points, shot 9 for 12 from the field and grabbed seven rebounds. He hung around afterward to greet his former Wizards teammates and members of the training and coaching staffs.

Deni Avdija’s night ended in the third quarter when the Wizards announced he would not return to the game because of a migraine. He took a hard elbow from James to his head and neck area in the second quarter.

Bagley’s absence meant 21-year-old rookie Tristan Vukcevic, whom Washington drafted in the second round last year then signed from a Serbian club last month, started against Davis. Facing the Lakers was a bit of a moment for the Wizards’ 7-foot center.

“The first time I saw him, I was like, ‘Damn, it’s LeBron.’ … At first glance, it’s like wow, but once tip-off starts, it’s just basketball,” Vukcevic said. “I don’t care who’s in front of me.”

The rookie followed up a strong performance against the Bucks by showing even more of his range, versatility and defensive awareness. He had 15 points and hit three three-pointers. His only gripe was that he wished he would have fouled Davis less; Vukcevic had five fouls.

Although Vukcevic had a chance to build relationships with his younger teammates at Summer League last year, the more veteran Wizards are still getting to know the Serbian-Swedish center who was born in Italy but said Wednesday, “My soul is Greek.”

Vukcevic’s father was a professional basketball player in Europe, and he moved frequently throughout childhood, attending international schools along the way. In addition to English, he speaks Serbian, Greek and Spanish fluently. He understands Swedish because of his mother.

Kuzma didn’t mince words when asked what his new teammate needs to work on in the offseason.

“He just needs to get stronger, honestly,” Kuzma said. “That boy can play.”



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