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Wizards’ lineup clicking heading into Oklahoma City

Jan 4, 2023; Orlando, Florida, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) drives around Orlando Magic center Wendell Carter Jr. (34) during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

After letting go of the step-back 3-pointer, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander kept his right arm fully extended until the ball dropped through the basket.

With 1.1 seconds left Nov. 16 against the Washington Wizards, Gilgeous-Alexander’s shot gave the Thunder a 121-120 win.

Friday, the teams face each other for the first time since Gilgeous-Alexander’s game-winner, when they meet in Oklahoma City.

Gilgeous-Alexander equalled his then-career high with 42 points in that November game.

Since, he’s matched that performance once before, topping it with 44 points Dec. 23 against New Orleans.

“He’s very crafty,” Washington standout Bradley Beal said then of Gilgeous-Alexander. “He probably doesn’t blow you away with his speed. … When you’re confident in yourself, and you’re playing at those levels, he doesn’t think anybody can guard him. He really has that mindset that he attacks everybody.”

Gilgeous-Alexander is coming off a 33-point performance in Wednesday’s loss at Orlando. He shot just 8 of 19 from the floor, but was 17 of 18 at the free-throw line a night after missing a win over Boston with non-COVID illness.

The Thunder trailed by 17 early in that win over the Wizards.

Since the start of last season, Oklahoma City has won 12 games in which it trailed by at least 15 points – the most in the league during that span.

The Thunder have won four such games this season and nine games in which the team was behind by at least 10 points.

“We take pride in being a 48-minute team,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “You have to condition yourself to bring energy for 48.”

The Thunder have lost three of their last four.

The Wizards figure to be without Beal, who left Tuesday’s loss to Milwaukee in the second quarter after aggravating a left hamstring. A similar injury kept him out of the Wizards’ previous three games.

Beal has missed 15 games this season with a variety of ailments.

A bruised quad led him to miss one game and COVID-19 kept him out of five. He also missed six with a right hamstring injury, and then the three games with a left hamstring injury.

“It’s tough,” Beal said. “It’s frustrating. I always preach, ‘Your best ability is your availability,’ and I haven’t been that. That piece is definitely frustrating, but I have to stay encouraged and understand there’s still more that I can contribute to the game, be here for my teammates and just make sure that I’m 100% before I go back out here.

“It’s tough because we’re playing good ball.” said Beal. “I want to be a part of that. I want to help the team win, continue to build on what we have going – our momentum.”

Washington has won five of six since Kristaps Porzingis returned from missing two games.

The pairing of Porzingis and Daniel Gafford, who came off the bench before Porzingis’ absence but has remained in the starting lineup alongside Porzingis, has helped the Wizards’ defense.

Washington’s defensive rating was in the bottom 10 in the league at 113.8 before the change. Since, the Wizards’ defensive rating is 106.3, tops in the league.

“I like where we are right now,” Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “We’ve won six of eight. We’re competing at a high level.”

–Field Level Media

–Field Level Media