Shorthanded Wizards unable to complete upset over Bucks as Deni Avdija receives spot start

Mar 14, 2021 | Deni Avdija

The Washington Wizards continue to play competitive basketball when the odds are against them, but they fell short of upsetting the Milwaukee Bucks. Without Bradley Beal, resting from left knee soreness endured on Wednesday, and Davis Bertans, out with right calf tightness that knocked him out of Friday’s game, the Wizards were without a large chunk of their offense. The Bucks executed better at the end of the game to secure a 125-119 victory. Starting for Beal, Deni Avdija had nine points on 4-for-10 shooting and four rebounds in 35 minutes of play.

“Just continue to show some growth, I think he had a little trend in the right direction the last few games coming off the bench,” Scott Brooks explained pre-game when asked about what he wants to see from Avdija starting. “Gives him another opportunity to show growth in different roles. He has a tough matchup, definitely has a tough matchup, one of the best small forwards [Khris Middleton] in the league. He just has to compete. Sometimes when you’re playing against All-Star level players, the pressure is on the All-Star more so than on the other guy. He just has to go out there and compete and have some fun and continue to improve in studying the game.”

It was the Russell Westbrook and Rui Hachimura show for Washington on Saturday night. Westbrook had a season-high in points (42) and three-pointers (5) to go along with his 11th triple-double of the season. The former MVP had 16 fourth-quarter points and assisted on Washington’s other eight points in the final frame, but it was not enough as he did not get a foul call on a potential game-tying layup that had Scott Brooks critical of the officiating post-game.

“For some reason, he [referee] didn’t want to call the foul on Giannis, we [intentionally] fouled Giannis. Guys touched him, two guys pushed him before he released the ball, that’s a foul. Same play on the other end of the court, Russell gets fouled on his arm, misses a layup that would have tied the game up with 26 seconds left. He [referee] didn’t want to call that foul either. Those are fouls. We got fouled and we tried to foul, neither of them was called,” an upset Scott Brooks said after the loss.

After not grabbing a rebound in 21 minutes of play on Friday against the 76ers that disappointed Scott Brooks, Rui Hachimura bounced with the best game of his young career with 29 points on 11-for-18 shooting including 3-for-5 from deep and 11 rebounds. Unfortunately for Washington, all of Hachimura’s scoring came in the first three quarters and the forward missed all four of his shots in the fourth quarter despite good looks. The 23-year old said knocking down those crunch time attempts are the next steps in his developing game and looks at Westbrook’s fourth-quarter performance as something to strive for.

Deni Avdija – Photo Credit: Washington Wizards

Deni Avdija started the first 16 games of his NBA career and then would come off the bench for his next 16 games as the Wizards were looking for a jolt to their slow start to the season. Saturday’s start was most likely a one-off and not a long-term return to the starting unit for the 20-year old. The rookie struggled from beyond the arc, shooting 1-for-6 from deep, but his sole make from three was extremely timely to give Washington a chance late.

“Deni grew up tonight,” Brooks began his silver lining explanation. “Tough call at the end of the game, that’s an All-Star player [Khris Middleton] and he’s one of the best in one-dribble, two-step pull-ups, and he stops on a dime. Sometimes when your hand’s in that cookie jar, you get caught and he hit him in the elbow. Those are all growth plays for Deni and Rui. You’re playing against All-Star players, you learn something by competing against them and then they respect you by competing against them.”

The Wizards will re-match the Bucks on Monday from Capital One Arena where they will hope to have Beal and Bertans back in the lineup. After Washington held Giannis Antetokounmpo to just five points through the first 22 minutes of the game, the reigning MVP still finished with a 33-11-11 triple-double that the home team will hope to improve against next time.

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