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Kyle Kuzma leads Wizards into matchup vs. depleted Blazers

Sportsnaut
Jan 9, 2022; Orlando, Florida, USA; Washington Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma (33) passes the ball against Orlando Magic forward Chuma Okeke (3) during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 9, 2022; Orlando, Florida, USA; Washington Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma (33) passes the ball against Orlando Magic forward Chuma Okeke (3) during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Kuzma is exceeding expectations for the Washington Wizards, who bring a three-game winning streak into Saturday’s matchup against the visiting Portland Trail Blazers.

The fifth-year pro is in the midst of the best stretch of his career, averaging 23.8 points, 10.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists while shooting 52.4 percent from the field over his last 11 games.

Kuzma had 19 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in Wednesday’s 112-106 victory over the Orlando Magic, finishing one assist shy of his first career triple-double.

Kuzma was acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers during the offseason and has emerged as a clear No. 2 scorer for Washington, which could be without star Bradley Beal (health and safety protocol) for the third straight game on Saturday.

“He can be a really good player in this league,” Beal said of Kuzma. “With his size, his versatility. He has a mismatch every single night. His IQ is super high. I think he doesn’t get a lot of credit for that. He’s a willing learner. He accepts criticism. He doesn’t think too highly of himself. He wants to win. You can see that.”

The Wizards continue their eight-game homestand with a meeting against Portland, which fell to 2-14 on the road with Thursday’s 140-108 loss to the Denver Nuggets.

The undermanned Blazers played without Damian Lillard (abdominal tendinopathy), CJ McCollum (right lung), Norman Powell (health and safety protocol), Larry Nance Jr. (right knee), Anfernee Simons (personal reasons) and Cody Zeller (right knee).

Lillard underwent successful surgery Thursday to repair an abdominal injury and will be re-evaluated in six weeks.

Dennis Smith Jr. started in place of Simons in Thursday’s loss and had 17 points to go with eight assists, two rebounds and a steal in 36 minutes. The Blazers trailed by as many as 37 points in the fourth quarter.

“You just want to try to execute your stuff,” said Portland coach Chauncey Billups. “We know what we have at the time, it is what it is. But you just want to try to go out and kind of execute your stuff. It was just OK. We had some good moments, but just OK. I thought we had a couple guys trying to do a little too much.”

Simons could return as soon as Saturday, while McCollum, Nance Jr. and Powell are all expected to rejoin the team within the next two weeks.

The Trail Blazers face another tough matchup against Washington, which is getting back to full strength after battling a coronavirus outbreak.

The Wizards are also excited about the return of center Thomas Bryant, who returned to action on Wednesday after missing over a year with an ACL injury.

Bryant had six points, one rebound and one assist in 11 minutes against Orlando.

“He looked good,” Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “I know it’s tough when the minutes are somewhat segmented and you don’t get that long stretch. But just to have him out there in a live game, getting a feel for it, getting back to that rhythm. It was good for him. I was pleased with how he performed and where he is right now.

Unseld Jr. will miss Saturday’s contest after entering the NBA’s health and safety protocol. Assistant coach Pat Delany will assume acting head coaching duties.

–Field Level Media