Clutch Beal earns Wizards 2-0 start after beating Bulls originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Consistently good teams in the NBA generally do a good job of beating the teams they are supposed to beat. While the Chicago Bulls are talented and made the playoffs last year, they were missing their starting backcourt of Lonzo Ball and Zach LaVine. The game was also played in Washington, so the Wizards had homecourt advantage. For those reasons, this was a game the Wizards should win, and they did.
After struggling defensively in the opening frame, Washington took control in the second quarter and barely held off the Bulls for the victory in their home opener. They are now 2-0 on the year.
It was close, though. After leading by 17 points, the Wizards saw that evaporate as DeMar DeRozan's free throws tied it with 1:19 remaining. Bradley Beal banked in a floater with 7.4 seconds left and that made the difference. DeRozan missed a last-second 3-point attempt reminiscent of the one he made to beat the Wizards on New Year's Day last season.
This game featured the Wizards' 'new' throwback jerseys, harkening back to their days in blue and bronze. It was a bit jarring to see, even though it was not all that long ago they switched to red, white and blue as their color scheme. That transition was made in 2011-12, John Wall's second season.
Beal, for instance, had never worn the jerseys before until Friday night.
Bradley Beal has been a Wizards player for a long time, but he's never worn this jersey before. pic.twitter.com/HeOZmkNigt
— Chase Hughes (@ChaseHughesNBCS) October 21, 2022
Head coach Wes Unseld Jr. has had little game action to work with when it comes to working new personnel into his offense centered around Beal, Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma. Those three didn't play together at all last season and only overlapped in one preseason game. So, what we're seeing from them now is the very early stages and there is likely some experimenting going on.
So far there have been some recurring themes. One is dribble hand-offs from Porzingis to Beal. The Wizards like to run the offense through Porzingis at the top of the key and have had some success getting Beal open when he runs around him. Unseld Jr. has also had Kuzma initiate the offense as a point guard in halfcourt sets. Before the season, he said Kuzma would run some after timeout plays and that may have been underselling it a bit. Kuzma has the skillset to do it, but it's not often you see a 6-foot-10 player play point.
Kuzma was on one
Getting the ball in Kuzma's hands one way or another was a good idea on Friday night, as he caught an early rhythm to lead the Wizards with 15 points in the first half. He popped two quick threes to open the third quarter and went on to finish with 26 points for the game. He also added six rebounds and two assists. Kuzma was efficient as well, shooting 8-for-16 from the field and 4-for-8 from deep. A few of his makes were dunks, including a nasty poster slam on Andre Drummond in the third quarter.
Kyle Kuzma has had a few big dunks in this game, this one on Andre Drummond. pic.twitter.com/c99hzi3rEW
— Chase Hughes (@ChaseHughesNBCS) October 22, 2022
It's very early, but the Wizards have to be encouraged by how Kuzma is adjusting to his role alongside Beal and Porzingis. It took him some time last year to figure out how to play off of Beal and Spencer Dinwiddie. He spoke publicly about how he was relegated to a spot-up shooter. Through two games he has been aggressive off the dribble and from 3-point range. Unseld Jr. is also running plenty of plays through him, which helps. So far, it has been a carryover of what we saw from him in the latter half of last season, which was a very dynamic player.
Hours before tip-off, the Wizards announced Deni Avdija would not play in this game due to his right ankle sprain, despite the fact he practiced the day before and was by all accounts good to go. Then, not long after, they released another announcement that he would play. Unseld Jr. then said in his pregame press conference Avdija would be under a minutes "recommendation" from the medical staff.
He ended up playing 23 minutes, closed the game and played well. He had six points, 10 rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block. It was the type of box score line we may see many more of from Avdija this season. Now in the starting lineup, his offense is going to naturally take a backseat to his defense. He is one of the team's most important players on the defensive end, but on offense he may not get many shots playing alongside Beal, Porzingis and Kuzma.
Turnovers an issue
The Wizards have had some problems protecting the ball so far in this young season. They had 16 turnovers against the Pacers in their opener, a big reason why Indiana was able to make a late push, and they had 17 turnovers against the Bulls. Chicago turned the Wizards' mistakes into 17 points on the other end. If the Wizards had protected the ball a bit better, they could have won by a much larger margin.
Beal had four turnovers to lead the Wizards, though the rest of them were pretty evenly spread out across the roster. The Bulls are one of the better teams in the league at generating steals. Over time, the Wizards are likely to be much better at limiting turnovers, as they 8th-best in the league last year and then added two of the top-5 players in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio; Monte Morris and Delon Wright. But early on, it's been one blemish for their otherwise potent offense.