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Surging Wizards eye two-game sweep of Bucks

Dec 28, 2022; Washington, District of Columbia, USA;  Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura (8) reacts during the second half against the Phoenix Suns at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Wizards can claim their sixth consecutive win and second against the host Milwaukee Bucks in three days when the two teams meet again on Tuesday.

Washington extended its ongoing run to five games and six of the last seven on Sunday with a 118-95 rout in Milwaukee.

The Wizards were without Bradley Beal, who missed his third consecutive game with a hamstring injury, but successfully capitalized on the Bucks playing without two-time league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Washington attacked the interior with Kristaps Porzingis going for 22 points and Rui Hachimura delivering 26 points off the bench.

Sunday marked Hachimura’s fifth consecutive double-figure-scoring effort since returning to the lineup, including his third game of 21 points or more. It bumped his average over the last six to 19 points per game.

“I’m just trying to be aggressive coming off the bench, moving the ball, everything. Just the mindset I have right now,” Hachimura said to NBC Sports Washington in his postgame interview following the Milwaukee win.

Hachimura’s surge since coming back from a bone bruise on his ankle has added punch to a Wizards frontcourt that stars Porzingis, who is averaging 22.2 points per game, and Kyle Kuzma, who recorded a triple-double of 10 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the backcourt gained a boost with Delon Wright’s return. Washington coach Wes Unseld Jr. praised Wright’s ability to create deflections as boosting the Wizards’ defense.

Wright made a steal on Sunday in his fifth game off the bench since returning from a nearly two-month absence. He has at least one takeaway in all but one game over the last five.

Beal is listed as questionable for Tuesday’s game. And while Washington is pulling together a more complete roster in recent weeks, Milwaukee is dealing with uncertainty in its own lineup.

Along with Antetokounmpo, the Bucks were also without Khris Middleton, George Hill and Jrue Holiday in Sunday’s loss.

“They got a lot of mismatches,” Bobby Portis said of Washington’s ability to exploit gaps in Milwaukee’s lineup, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Obviously Porzingis is tall … and he can shoot over anybody. They played through that a little bit. Then Hachimura came in and he did his thing as well. They mixed it up a lot.”

Despite the loss, Sunday was another notable night for Portis. The Milwaukee forward finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds for his 21st double-double of the season. That ties teammate Antetokounmpo for third-most in the NBA.

Portis, a former Wizard, made the start on Sunday due to the absences up and down Milwaukee’s roster, but he has been one of the NBA’s top contenders for the Sixth Man of the Year Award early on in the season.

Portis is averaging 14 points per game, just shy of a career high, and a career-best 10.1 rebounds per game. When both are in the lineup, he complements Antetokounmpo on the inside.

Antetokounmpo’s 32.1 points per game represent a career-high and rank third in the league behind Dallas’ Luka Doncic and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid. He scored 43 points his last time out, which was also Milwaukee’s sole win in the last six games, a 123-114 defeat last Friday of Minnesota.

–Field Level Media