NBA

The thunder carries the energy, the magicians carry the losses in a defeat

The thunder carries the energy, the magicians carry the losses in a defeat

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OKLAHOMA CITY — After a 10-game losing streak in December gave way to a five-game winning streak around Christmas, the Washington Wizards finally got even in the first week of 2023.

His return to earth looked like this: a win against the Milwaukee Bucks on New Year’s Day, a loss against the nearly complete Bucks two days later and a complete film Friday night in a 127-110 loss by a young, bold and athletic Oklahoma City Thunder team that those paying attention could have smelled from a mile away.

Coach Wes Unseld Jr. he knew the dangers. Before the game, he talked about the need to keep Thunder rising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander out of the paint, but the guard moved like a freight train all night, picking up speed in the middle of the court and moving forward until it filled with steam and headed to the right. towards his defender. At times, the Wizards (17-23) didn’t have to get out of the way: Gilgeous-Alexander had a wide lane to drive.

For the Wizards lately, bigger has been better

Unseld also talked about Oklahoma City’s skills in transition, and spectators had to shake their heads from side to side like it was a tennis match with how fast the Thunder were playing . Oklahoma City’s frenetic defense was the foundation of their victory, prompting Washington into 20 turnovers.

Gilgeous-Alexander scored 30 points to lead five Thunder scorers in double figures. Josh Giddey added 20.

Washington was again without guard Bradley Beal, who is expected to miss at least two more games with what the team calls a low-grade hamstring strain. But the Wizards are already used to playing without their star guard. His problem was a sleepy start.

Kristaps Porzingis took responsibility for not setting the tone. In a rarity, he requested to speak to reporters in the locker room after the game instead of reporters asking to speak to him.

“Obviously it was a tough game, but I felt I wanted to take some responsibility. [Daniel Gafford] and myself, we didn’t set the tone defensively early on. … So it was something that was on my mind and I wanted to say it [it]” Porzingis said.

The Thunder’s lockdown defense regularly picked off Washington’s near-full-court players and rumbled at the top of the key, often forcing turnovers. Washington couldn’t keep pace and turned the ball over six times in the first quarter and fell into a 20-point deficit that grew to 26 by halftime.

Unseld said his team’s problems weren’t schematics but in effort plays like offensive rebounds and 50/50 balls.

“You have to dig deep and find it,” Unseld said. “Find a way to create your own juice, your own energy, go out there and compete at a high level.”

The Wizards were so nervous on offense that it affected their defense. Gilgeous-Alexander was powerful in the paint early on, but he didn’t need to carry his team. Thunder coach Mike Daigneault played a fairly deep rotation with nine players, and all were active.

“He’s so patient. He’s got the best rhythm in the NBA,” Kyle Kuzma said of Gilgeous-Alexander. “He doesn’t really force wild shots. He always takes his extra dribbles. He does a great job. He can get into the paint when he wants to. Obviously, his offense is predicated [on] allowing him to get into the paint, which they do a great job of.”

Unseld, on the other hand, was so desperate for a spark that he called up safety Jordan Goodwin and reserve wing Will Barton, both of whom had fallen out of the rotation and hadn’t played minutes before tipoff. ‘garbage from December 22.

They didn’t help. Oklahoma City (17-22) entered the locker room with a 26-point lead and shooting 54 percent from the field with 10 3-pointers. The Wizards had accumulated 11 turnovers.

The Thunder finished shooting 51 percent from the field and had 17 3-pointers. Washington made a late push, getting to just 14 in the fourth quarter.

Kuzma led the way with 23 points, five rebounds and seven assists. Daniel Gafford had 15 points and nine rebounds. Porzingis had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Barton added 14 points off the bench.

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

Kuzma received the seventh-most votes among frontcourt players in the Eastern Conference when the NBA released its first returns for the All-Star Game on Thursday. Kuzma, who is averaging career highs in points (21.3), field goal percentage (46.0) and minutes (35.2), was the only Wizards player in the top 10 vote-getters for both guards and elders.

One of the side effects of Unseld tightening up his rotation last month was Goodwin’s diminished role. The backup guard hadn’t played significant minutes since Dec. 22 before Friday, when Unseld brought him off the bench early. The Wizards needed a feisty, disruptive player like Goodwin to match the Thunder’s energy, and Goodwin wreaked some havoc on defense. He had nine points in 22 minutes on 4-of-5 shooting from the field.

Porzingis took responsibility for the lack of defensive effort, but the issue was widespread. Rui Hachimura has provided a welcome burst of energy off the bench of late, but Friday was held to a rebound for the first time this season.



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