After pouring in a season-high 29 points in a loss to the Chicago Bulls on New Year’s Day, Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma set a new standard two days later in a win over the Charlotte Hornets, perhaps signaling the arrival of a player whose confidence has matched his talents.
Kuzma posted 36 points, 14 rebounds and six assists in the Wizards’ 124-121 victory. He has scored in double figures in six consecutive games, his longest such streak this season, and is averaging a double-double of 23.7 points and 10.5 rebounds during that stretch. Not long after public dialogue of Washington centered on needing someone other than Bradley Beal to do the heavy lifting offensively, Kuzma stepped forward into that role, with an assertive approach paying dividends.
“I’m just looking, I’m just being really aggressive honestly,” said Kuzma, tied for second on the Wizards in scoring at 14.5 points per game. “I’m just putting my head down whether that’s trying to get to the rim, taking an open 3 if it’s there, but if it’s not, trying not to settle. I’ve had a lot of success getting to the rim and if a shot is not there, finding a teammate that’s open.
“I’m not forcing the issue but I’m not reacting to what the defense is doing. I’m just going out and being the aggressor.”
Washington, set to host the Houston Rockets Wednesday, needs that verve. After a 10-3 start to the season, the Wizards have struggled to maintain that momentum, with the triumph over Charlotte pushing them one game over .500 with the midpoint of the schedule fast approaching. Like most teams in the NBA, the Wizards have endured health and safety protocol disruptions, with guards Spencer Dinwiddie and Raul Neto currently unavailable.
With Rui Hachimura, who was fourth on the team in points scored last season, having yet to suit up this season, the Wizards need Kuzma to continue to perform as a reliable secondary scorer.
“His level of aggression has been terrific,” Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “Getting downhill, staying aggressive in the open floor when we get stops.
“He’s a confidence guy. He’s played in big moments and had a big role on a championship team. He’s not afraid of the moment.”
The Rockets suffered their eighth consecutive loss Monday, with internal strife greasing the skids to their 133-113 road loss against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Houston faced the top two centers in the league in consecutive games, following a home loss against Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic by facing Joel Embiid with only one center available: Daniel Theis. Rookie Alperen Sengun (ankle) and Christian Wood were unavailable, with Wood serving a one-game suspension along with guard Kevin Porter Jr. stemming from their outbursts and insubordination at halftime and early in the second half against Denver.
With the worst record in the Western Conference and the losses continuing to pile up, the Rockets are in a precarious position. They lack experience and talent, so the last thing the Rockets can afford to lose is a sense of togetherness.
“We only had one center,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “That just shows the importance of everybody on the same page, everybody doing what they need to do so we can go forward and be whole.”
–Field Level Media