The Washington Wizards completed their six-game homestand and were a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander game-winning 3-pointer on Wednesday away from a perfect 6-0 showing, but they will certainly take 5-1 after defeating the Charlotte Hornets, 106-102, on Sunday night. Deni Avdija dislocated his left pinky finger on Friday against Miami and although he was available to return to the game, head coach Wes Unseld Jr. rolled with Corey Kispert and Taj Gibson in the second half as they helped fuel the needed comeback. Avdija saw his more typical rotation minutes against the Hornets and recorded his first double-double of the season and sixth of his young career with 12 points and a season-high 13 rebounds.
כבר מתחילים >> דני על הפרקט
— Washington Wizards 🇮🇱 (@washwizardsil) November 20, 2022
“I always like rebounding the ball, it’s part of my game,” Avdija said after the second-most rebounds in his career. “I was extra aggressive tonight I guess on the rebounds, we had an emphasis on the rebounds too pre-game because they’re a good offensive rebounding team. I was just on the glass trying to grab them.”
“I love the fact that he’s cleaning up the boards. We need more of it,” Unseld commended post-game.
In the first quarter on Sunday, Avdija showcased his improving ability to finish around the rim, which has been a knock against him early in this NBA career. Avdija had three first-quarter layups in the span of 19 seconds, which is truly hard to believe. To begin that stretch, Bradley Beal pushed the ball to Avdija in transition allowing the latter to get right to the paint and create space against a backpedaling Gordon Hayward to finish at the rim. Beal had another steal on the next Charlotte possession and Avdija was able to snag a low bounce pass and finish with a reverse layup through contact all in one motion. The Israeli forward would miss the free throw, but it caromed back to him and he took the rock right to the rim and finished after a pump fake to make the defense jump before finishing with his left hand. Spread more evenly throughout the game was Avdija’s contribution on defense as he helped hold Terry Rozier, historically very good against Washington, to merely 8 points on inefficient 3-for-14 shooting from the field.
Deni➡️Kuz➡️Deni for the sweet lay
Wizards off to a fast 12-3 lead forcing Charlotte to call time! pic.twitter.com/tQVKCS69TW
— NBC Sports Wizards (@NBCSWizards) November 20, 2022
“He started off a little slow, we had a game plan for him,” Avdija credited the preparation from coaches to limit Rozier. “I was guarding him early on, but just being aggressive, gaping at the point of the screen or chasing him, I really needed to read it and just contesting him at the rim. He’s a terrific scorer.”
Any fan of Avdija or the Wizards will likely have some bias when it comes to not agreeing with foul calls against the 21-year-old forward. It is not surprising that Avdija seems to draw the short end of the stick from the officials given he is a young player lacking a resume commanding respect while defending the opposition’s top scorers that will receive the benefit of the doubt. On Wednesday, Avdija fell victim on two critical foul calls guarding Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the span of two possessions late in the fourth quarter bringing him one foul away from fouling out. Wes Unseld Jr. opted not to challenge either call that featured minimal, if any, contact probably thinking he may need to hold onto his sole allotted challenge for later in a close game, but that was the wrong call as he would lose his third timeout that you cannot carry into the final two minutes for nothing. After the next game against Miami, Bradley Beal came to Avdija’s defense in the middle of a response having nothing to do with Washington’s starting small forward, but surely an appreciated show of support nonetheless.
Bradley Beal on his own accord (when asked about his defense)
“It’s tough out here, I [got to] start talking to the refs cause I think they got something against my man Deni. Keep trying to foul him out every game.” pic.twitter.com/ULRavIa7sm
— Neil Dalal (@NeilDalal96) November 19, 2022
“That would be ideal, but he’s gonna be himself,” Unseld said when asked if he would rather Avdija not complain as much to referees. “It’s ok to ask questions and not be pleased with a call, but you just can’t dwell on it. Kind of get over it, figure out what to learn from what they’re telling you, and try to do a better job of not fouling. I don’t think anyone is out for Deni. It’s part of his growth, maturation. When you are guarding elite offensive players, it’s gonna be tough.”
“I won’t necessarily say I don’t know why I sometimes get this treatment,” Avdija began when asked about seemingly being short-changed by referees. “It’s frustrating because I’m guarding the best guys on the opposite team and if I get really easy fouls, it just gets me out of the game, out of the rhythm. In general, I’m going to try to be better, try to foul less, show my hands more. The foul calls will come with time as I get older and get more respect in this league hopefully it will be better, but sometimes it is frustrating I won’t gonna lie.”
Washington will now look to take their momentum on the road where they will spend 13 of their next 17 games over the next month starting with two games in Miami and a trip to Boston over the next week.