This week in Wizards: A promising start

By Zach Rice

*This column does not include Washington’s games against the Celtics on 10/27 and the Hawks on 10/28

Going into the 2021-22 season, expectations for the Wizards were lacking, to say the least. To most of the NBA community, the Wizards had been nothing but a franchise that needed to trade Bradley Beal and rebuild. For the first time in four years, however, the Wizards started off their season with a couple of quality wins.

Before diving into the games, I would first like to thank Ted Leonsis for hiring Wes Unseld Jr. The new coach has already had a pos the team, more so than Scott Brooks ever did. Team basketball, particularly team defense, has dramatically increased from years past. Yes, that’s right; the Wizards played rock-solid defense this week. Three games is a small sample size, but the results have been extremely promising so far. 

Season Opener

Despite a sloppy offensive performance, the season opener was one Washington fans could be proud of. For the first time in an eternity, the Wizards won a game because of their defense. Washington’s 83 points that they allowed against Toronto is the smallest point total they’ve given up in four years. This lockdown defense was a result of impeccable coaching from Wes Unseld Jr. and the Wizards’ quality defensive performance. The defense kept the Raptors from getting in the paint, and the Raptors shot the three ball poorly at just 20.6% (7/34).  

Before the game, Unseld said that the Raptors “were going to play with high energy and be very physical.” This prediction turned out to hold true, and the Wizards were able to capitalize on Toronto’s over-aggression. Offensively, Washington’s ball movement combined with much-too-physical defense from the Raptors led to several good looks from D.C.


This intense, high- scoring overtime victory over Indiana was reminiscent of last season. The Wiz also won without Beal, a feat nobody should take lightly. 

As a fan who loves watching back and forth, thrilling basketball, this game was ridiculously exciting to watch. Both teams shot over 50% from the field and over 44% from three due to stellar offense and heinous defense. After a high-scoring first half that was tied 73-73 going into the break, Wes Unseld Jr. and Rick Carlisle adjusted to slow the game down in the second half, particularly on the perimeter. After 22 threes found the bottom of the basket between the Wizards and Pacers in the first half, just 12 threes got converted in the second half and overtime. What Carlisle failed to do, however, was stop Spencer Dinwiddie, who put up 34 points to go along with six rebounds and nine assists. While Dinwiddie’s 34 points were impressive, it was Dinwiddie’s presence as a passer that was more astonishing. Whenever the Pacers tried double teaming or trapping him, he found the open man.

The clutch factor from this team was unclear going into tonight, especially without their best on-ball scorer in Beal. However, Dinwiddie and Kyle Kuzma stepped up and made a few timely plays, including game-clinching free throws, that sealed the game for the Wizards.

This stretch of game was stressful, to say the least. But, this game instilled confidence in the DC fanbase. The 2020-21 Wizards of last year would’ve found a way to lose either of these opening games, especially the one against Indiana — but not this team. 


This game was painful to watch. The Wizards’ loss was largely due to an egregious first quarter performance on both ends of the floor. Brooklyn generated a 30-8 run over the next 10 minutes of the game, and it quickly put the Wiz in a 25-point hole which they couldn’t recover from. The Wizards played atrociously offensively from here on out. They settled for too many outside and contested threes, and their overall poor shot selection sunk them early on.

Washington’s 90-point dud wasn’t entirely the Wizards’ fault, however; a portion of it can be attributed to the Nets’ stellar defense. The Wizards were unable to attack inside and struggled to find decent looks from behind the arc. After the Wizards hit 19/38 threes against Indiana, they hit just 9/39 against Brooklyn. 

Defensively, it was a promising outing for Washington. After the Wizards gave up a 38- point first quarter, they held the Nets to just 66 points for the rest of the game. The defensive adjustment mirrored Brooklyn’s; the Wizards forced the Nets to take tough threes for most of the game. The Wizards also were able to contest Durant well enough to hold him off from taking over the game, largely by constantly getting in his grill and forcing him to take tough jumpers. On a night like this, however, the defense needed to force some more turnovers. The Nets turned the ball over just nine times and, in a game in which the offense struggled mightily, some fastbreak opportunities could’ve turned the game around.

Top three Wizards of the week 

  1. Spencer Dinwiddie : It would be an understatement to say Dinwiddie played impressively all week, especially considering that these opening few games were Dinwiddie’s first since he partially tore his ACL in December of 2020. After a quiet 13 point outing against the Raptors, Dinwiddie broke out against the Pacers in place of an injured Bradley Beal. He sliced the Pacers’ defense apart the entire game, beginning with an 18 point first half. His ability to score in the first half and throughout the game can be credited to the fact that defenses heavily respected his passing prowess. Dinwiddie was lighting it up from three as well, and when defenders came too far out, he took them off the dribble. His key shots down the stretch punctuated a phenomenal performance that Wizards fans could get used to. A game-tying three with Pacers rookie Chris Duarte in his face tied the game with 33 seconds remaining in the fourth, and the game went to OT. In overtime, Dinwiddie sank another clutch three to tie the game with under two minutes to go. His 34 points, six rebounds and nine assists were exactly what the Wizards needed to pull off a remarkable win without Beal. Despite struggling in his return to Brooklyn, Dinwiddie’s ability to maximize opportunities for his teammates this week played a significant role in the Wizards’ victories for their first two games of the season. 
  2. Kyle Kuzma : Kuzma is a player who’s received his fair share of criticism from NBA fans throughout his career. However, he stepped up and was an important part of Washington’s opening victories. While Kuzma was inefficient (11 points, 3/13 from the field) and struggled from beyond the arc (2/9) against Toronto, he grabbed 15 rebounds and played well defensively. Every player has awesome shooting nights and games they wish they could forget, so even though Kuzma shot poorly, his ability to play well hints that there will be better games to come. Kuzma followed up the season opener with another double-double, but this time he was more efficient scoring-wise. Kuzma shot 10/17 from the field and hit five threes on just eight attempts. He led the Wizards in rebounds yet again with 11 to go along with 26 points. Along with a scoring breakout, it was yet another excellent game on the glass and defensively. While Kuzma played poorly against the Nets, he put up another double-digit rebound performance with 13 in just 27 minutes. Kuzma put up 13 rebounds per game this week and played a major role in Washington’s first victories. Even though Kuzma’s shooting was generally sub-par this week, his aggression on the boards and grit on defense were key to the Wizards’ ability to exceed expectations.
  3. Montrezl Harrell: Harrell was the only player to play their “A” game against the Raptors in the season opener. In 26 minutes off the bench, Harrell put up 22 points and nine boards on just 11 shots. Harrell’s efficiency made up for the lack of shooting prowess in Beal, Dinwiddie and Kuzma. Even though most of Harrell’s points came from dunks, it still takes significant talent to create these shot opportunities. Against the Pacers, Harrell had another solid performance. With Daniel Gafford struggling with foul trouble throughout the game, Harrell’s availability off the bench was crucial. He finished the game with 14 points and seven rebounds, but his most valuable asset against Indiana was his ability to play 34 minutes. Against the Nets, Harrell didn’t exactly play well, shooting 4-7 with 10 points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes, yet he was again able to provide the Wizards with a spark off the bench they lacked elsewhere. His energy all week was crucial to the Wizards’ success.