Deni Avdija impressively battles through a stomach bug to nearly lift the Wizards to an upset win over Bucks

Mar 6, 2023 | Deni Avdija

The Washington Wizards and Deni Avdija did not have a pleasant weekend in D.C. for somewhat different reasons. Washington lost closely contested games to the Toronto Raptors in overtime and the Milwaukee Bucks to take two steps backward after two good wins earlier in the week. Avdija dealt with a stomach virus that knocked him out of Saturday’s game after just seven minutes played and the fatigue nearly kept him out of Sunday’s game, but he gutted through. Avdija finished with 17 points on 5-for-10 shooting including 2-for-4 from 3 to go along with 6 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 assists in 31 minutes.

“I’m proud of him. Up until the last minute [before the game], he was wavering, he wasn’t feeling well. For him to gut through that and play at the level he played, that’s growth for him, shows what he’s made of. A little bit of toughness, grit, he laid it out there,” head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said about his third-year forward after the game. “You’re going to play through some discomfort [late in the season] and the fact that he was able to do that speaks to his character.”

Many player’s in today’s load management era of NBA basketball would have gladly sat out the second night of a back-to-back when not feeling well, but that is not in Avdija’s DNA. He and the team struggled in the first half, but he was instrumental in the Wizards’ comeback attempt that fell short in the second half with 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting in 19 minutes off the bench. Arguably the two best players on the team, Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis, took notice and appreciated the effort from the Israeli.

“He always wants to play,” Beal began. “He was an Iron Man last year, played in every game, he takes pride in that. Guys have their ailments and you always credit guys who push through that and can find a way, but it’s never easy. We’re still human beings, we still got feelings, we still got things that keep us from performing at our highest. Thankfully Deni was able to give it his all.”

Deni Avdija – Photo Credit: Washington Wizards

“It was great, he was battling some virus. Not feeling well before the game, you could see he was low energy,” Porzingis described his friend’s ailment. “This guy, he’s a fighter. He wants to play always, he loves basketball and he pushed himself and in the end he was very valuable for us. He gave us a spark, hit a couple big 3s, made some plays for us, some and-1s. He was excellent. I’m very happy how he didn’t have the best first half, but then second half he stayed locked in and really gave us a spark. That’s his growth you can see, throughout the season also. Hats off to him for trying to be there because Kuz[ma] is already out so for Deni to stop up was big time. Players feel that and respect that.”

Just a tad bit less remarkable than Michael Jordan’s infamous flu game, Avdija had his best offensive game since the All-Star break while under the weather. Despite a stretch of 6-for-22 (27 percent) shooting over the previous four games, Avdija found other ways to contribute such as rebounding, grabbing 22 boards across the two wins against Atlanta and Toronto. Even though the box score may not always look pretty, I will give Avdija a 7 out of 10 for his level of play and effort in the six games since the All-Star break.

“First of all, I like to rebound. I like to help out the bigs because a lot of times they box out the bigger guys and I’m just there to help rebounding and pushing the ball. I can have an off night on offense sometimes, but I’m always aggressive on the boards, defensively, and I’m trying to affect the game in so many ways. This is my bread and butter that I know how to do and hopefully just continue like that,” Avdija said last Wednesday at practice after the Hawks win. “I came to the Wizards and I need to affect the game. I didn’t have the ball always offensively and I needed to set my game up to be on the court, to close out games, I want to be in important situations. My chance at doing that was doing the dirty work whether it’s defensively, on the rebounds, or creating for others. I like doing that because it really helps the team.”

Washington will travel to Detroit for their makeup game against the Pistons on Tuesday before a pivotal two-game mini-playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks at home that will certainly impact post-season seeding as the Wizards eye a return to the playoffs. As has always been the case throughout Avdija’s young NBA career, he will look to continue his incremental improvement day by day that has been noticeable to his coach.

“I’ve seen growth for him. He’s not letting some of the little things, that maybe a year ago affect him, have the same effect now,” Unseld assessed after Sunday’s game. “That’s a positive, he’s playing through some things, he’s figuring it out, he’s not taking anything as personal when teams guard him a certain way. He accepts the challenge so I think there is a positive in that he’s shown a level of maturity.”

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