Wizards defy odds for thrilling victory over Nets as Deni Avdija understandably struggles

Jan 31, 2021 | Deni Avdija

Regardless of the results in recent years, the Washington Wizards have always played an exciting brand of basketball because of their up-tempo pace and offensive firepower. Despite an 18-point first-quarter deficit that forced Scott Brooks to burn three timeouts in the first nine minutes of the game, the Wizards did not quit against the championship-contending Brooklyn Nets. Down five with less than 10 seconds to play, the Wizards did the improbable assisted by a Joe Harris gaffe to win, 149-146. In his first game in nearly three weeks, Deni Avdija had a subpar performance with just two points in 16 minutes of play.

“I’ve always grown up loving his passion, loving watching him play,” Garrison Mathews said about Russell Westbrook after his season-high 41 points. “His competitiveness and his fire is really some of the best fire and competitiveness I’ve ever seen and been able to play with. It’s incredible to watch. I try to bring somewhat of that same fire and just to watch him, his leadership coming with that, it’s awesome to be able to experience and play with.”

Bradley Beal & Russell Westbrook – Photo Credit: Washington Wizards

After trailing 31-13 in the first quarter, the Wizards responded with a 24-7 run to make things a ballgame the rest of the way. Credit goes to Moe Wagner and Ish Smith off the bench taking advantage of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving off the floor. Wagner finished with 17 points on 7-for-8 shooting and five rebounds in 21 minutes of play taking advantage of the Nets constantly doubling Bradley Beal on pick-and-rolls. Smith was a game-high +24 in 24 minutes where he contributed 13 points on 6-for-9 shooting and seven assists. Along with Garrison Mathews and Davis Bertans, once he finds his way out of another slump due to a long layoff, the Wizards may have a formidable second unit to complement the dynamic duo of Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook.

One of six Washington players that tested positive for COVID-19, Deni Avdija returned to the Wizards starting lineup after a 20-day absence. Scott Brooks hinted pre-game that Avdija would be on the relatively strictest minutes restriction of the group possibly because he was one of two Wizards that were not completely asymptomatic in their bout against the coronavirus.

Avdija’s primary defensive assignment was Joe Harris who tied his career-high with 30 points on 11-for-17 shooting including 8-for-13 from beyond the arc. Four minutes into the game Harris had three triples and Avdija was benched. Then three minutes into the second half Harris added two more from deep and Avdija was benched again. It was not necessarily an effort issue for the 20-year old but a combination of being a step slow and good schemes by Brooklyn to get Harris open. The diligent rookie immediately went to work after the game with a 30-minute workout with assistant coach David Adkins.

Photo Credit: Washington Wizards

With six games postponed due to the team’s COVID-19 outbreak, the NBA has done some reshuffling of the Wizards schedule. Now before departing for two games in Miami, Washington will host the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday at 8 p.m. in a matchup originally targetted for the yet to be announced second half of the season. At 4-12, the Wizards still have the worst record in the NBA so they know their work is still cut out for them with 16 games in the 28 days of February.

“We definitely needed this win and we got to build from it,” Westbrook said to finish his post-game availability. “Winning tonight and not coming next game ready to play means nothing.”

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