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Kyle Kuzma, Wizards start fast and don’t look back in win over Raptors

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Bradley Beal didn’t hesitate when asked Tuesday in Atlanta whether the Washington Wizards’ well-rounded performance against the Hawks could be repeated for the remainder of the season.

Of course, he nodded — with the caveat that it will be an arduous climb up from No. 10 in the Eastern Conference standings. But his point stood: The Wizards have talent. It’s often some of the other things — consistent focus, taking pride in defense, maintaining an aggressive style of play — that hold them back.

None of those things were issues Thursday in a 119-108 win over the Toronto Raptors at Capital One Arena, a strong opening salvo in a two-game series that includes a Saturday rematch in Chinatown.

“We definitely wish we could’ve had the first two out of the break, kind of beat ourselves in those,” Beal said, referring to the Wizards’ losses to the Knicks and Bulls after the all-star break. “But we got the last two, and that’s been who we are, more or less. We’ve just got to continue to stay consistent. That’s been our Achilles’ heel, our consistency.”

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Kyle Kuzma had a game-high 30 points, including a personal 10-0 run to start the contest while the Raptors went 0 for 10 from the field. Even though the visitors rallied to keep things competitive, the Wizards (30-32) were in control throughout.

They trusted in their offense to lead the way, especially with Kristaps Porzingis back on court after the big man missed two games with left knee soreness. Porzingis had 25 points and five rebounds in his return, and Daniel Gafford had 18 points and five rebounds. Kuzma also had five rebounds and five assists.

There were difference-makers up and down the box score. Deni Avdija had six points and nine rebounds in an easy, confident defensive showing, and Delon Wright, starting in place of point guard Monte Morris (back) for the third straight game, buzzed around on defense like a character from a video game. He had seven points, six rebounds and a season-high 11 assists.

“Our disposition on the ball was pretty good,” Wizards Coach Wes Unseld Jr. said before praising his team’s ability to withstand Toronto’s physicality on both sides of the ball. “Obviously they’re a heavy paint team. They’re going to play downhill as much as they can.”

The taut offense made minding the details on defense that much easier. The Raptors (31-33) had five scorers in double figures, including 26 points from OG Anunoby, but were constantly shooting with a hand in their faces.

They had nine three-pointers to Washington’s 14.

Here’s what else to know about the Wizards’ win:

Second-year guard Corey Kispert was part of a strong bench showing Thursday with 10 points and his usual smart off-ball movement, passing and cutting. He also hit a major milestone, according to the Wizards — with his two three-pointers, he became the first player in franchise history to make more than 100 three-pointers in his first two seasons.

The Wizards waived center Vernon Carey Jr. on Wednesday afternoon, creating an open spot on their 15-man roster. The 22-year-old was a second-round pick out of Duke in 2020 and arrived in Washington last season in a trade-deadline deal with Charlotte. He appeared in just 11 games for the Wizards this season.

They also filled their second two-way contract spot by signing center Jay Huff to a deal. A 7-foot-1, 240-pounder from Virginia, Huff has ties to the Wizards after he participated in a pre-draft workout in 2021 and joined their summer league team later that year.

Huff was assigned to the Capital City Go-Go on Thursday, Unseld said.

“It’s nice to get a guy that you have some familiarity with. He’s another pick-and-pop guy, smart player. I think he’s an underrated passer — does a pretty good job of using his body,” Unseld said. “He’s got good size as a rim protector — not necessarily a shot blocker but positional defender. I think he’s shown a lot of improvement this year, just being mindful of how he can impact winning. He’s going to play with effort, do all the little things, screen. I like the kid. I’m glad that he’s got an opportunity to get back into the fold.”

Unseld had no update on Morris’s timeline after the point guard received an epidural injection Wednesday to help ease back pain. The coach said Morris was doing “a little better.” He is listed as week-to-week, but Unseld said the team will monitor him daily to hopefully expedite his return.

“He said he was in a little discomfort given the shots, I’m sure, are in some tender areas,” Unseld said. “… I think it’s just going to take time for the injection to run its course and kind of relax things a bit, but I don’t foresee it being too long.”




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