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Kyle Kuzma Lifts Wizards Past Cavaliers

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On a night where Wizards’ superstar Bradley Beal was admittedly not totally mentally invested in the game due to the death of his Grandmother, the Wizards were still able to pull out a gritty 97-94 win over the upstart Cleveland Cavaliers thanks to some late-game heroics from Kyle Kuzma. While Beal might have scored just 13 points on 4-19 shooting, he still dished out seven assists and seven rebounds and still managed to be +7 in his 37 minutes on the floor. Beal will reportedly miss Friday’s game against the Orlando Magic as well. 

It was a rough night offensively all around for the Wizards, with Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell being the only players to break double digits and shoot over 40 percent from the field. Harrell poured 24 points on 26 minutes on his usual supply of scrappy buckets in the lane but also went a surprising 8-8 from the free-throw line (Harrell is a career 65.9 percent free throw shooter). 

Kuzma on the other hand had one of the best late-game performances of his career. He had a solid box scoreline with 22 points on 8-14 shooting, including 6-9 on 3-pointers. The icing on the cake of course though, were his two late-game 3-pointers pull the Wizards back from a four-point deficit with less than two minutes left, and then to take the lead with 11 seconds remaining. 

The final 3-pointer truly is a thing of beauty, and it is always great to see a superstar making the unselfish play in a clutch situation. Beal could have easily forced up a shot in the lane and potentially gotten fouled, but he saw Kuzma open in the corner and trusted him to hit a big shot. That is the kind of leadership that ingrains young players with confidence and gets them to play up to their potential. Hopefully, this sweet shooting continues for Kuzma, and Beal’s trust continues to strengthen his confidence in his game. 

For the Cavaliers, they were led in scoring by Ricky Rubio, who tallied 20 points and five assists on 6-15 shooting from the field. Trailing just behind Rubio were Darius Garland and Evan Mobley, who both finished with 19 points. Garland was 8-16 from the field and hit a go-ahead floater with under a minute in the game, but was just 3-10 on 3-pointers and missed an open look late in the game that would have put them ahead. Jarrett Allen added 13 points and 10 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the season. 

This was another great win for the Wizards to keep them atop the Eastern Conference and extend their win streak to three games. Head coach Wes Unseld Jr. has the team playing inspired team basketball and beating good and bad teams alike. Many Wizards teams in recent years would likely have folded under pressure in a close late-game such as this one, but Unseld has rallied the troops and imbued this team with a sense of grit and confidence that is clear to anyone who has watched his team play this season. It is still early in the year, but it may be time to start discussing whether the Wizards are a legit threat in the East. Certainly, teams will be taking them more seriously than they did last year in regular-season matchups going forward. Here’s to hoping Beal, Unseld and company can keep the momentum going. 

All stats courtesy of StatMuse, Basketball Reference, ESPN and HoopsStats

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