WASHINGTON – On the heels of a four-game trip, a home game can feel so sweet. No hostile crowds constantly on Kyle Kuzma, the forward who is alternately lavished with affection and heckled just about everywhere he goes, no fans to snap at backup center Montrezl Harrell. A pregame nap in one’s own bed can do wonders.
The Washington Wizards aren’t taking any games at Capital One Arena for granted in the month of December, because they’ve only got five of them. So when Harrell slammed a dunk with less than three minutes to play in a 115-107 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, he skipped – yes, skipped – back down the floor to celebrate.
It was his 10th dunk of the game and marked a season-high 27 points, both of which were signs of a sunny night overall for the home team.
The Wizards’ occasionally stagnant offense had vanished for the night and they didn’t allow their opponents to score as they please in the paint: Washington (14-8) tied a season high with 34 assists and outscored Minnesota 68-44 in the paint behind Harrell’s renewed energy and starter Daniel Gafford’s continued hot streak.
That, plus 10 three-pointers and 49.5% shooting in the face of slight defense from the Timberwolves (11-11), was more than enough to combat Karl-Anthony Towns’s 34 points and 10 rebounds.
For the first time in five games, the Wizards looked confident heading into the fourth quarter despite nursing a three-point lead. They allowed Minnesota just 19 points in the final frame.
“Just a little bit more urgency,” Washington Coach Wes Unseld Jr. said of his team’s defense down the stretch. “Teams are going to make runs . . . how do you withstand those ebbs and flows? You have to dig down. We didn’t change a whole lot of what we were doing, we just did it harder. With more urgency, more physicality. A little bit more communication.”
Bradley Beal added a quiet 19 points, nine assists and six rebounds as he continues his well-rounded – if unflashy – performances. Gafford had18 points and 10 rebounds and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 14 points.
Anthony Edwards added 25 to complement Towns.
Here’s what else to know from Wednesday’s game:
Bertans finds some rhythm
He entered Wednesday’s bout having made 1 of 22 field goals in four games since returning from an ankle sprain, but Davis Bertans finally started hitting his shots against Minnesota. He drained three three-pointers off the bench, including the three that put Washington ahead for good in the fourth quarter, and had 15 points.
“We have the utmost confidence that he’s going to make that next shot,” Unseld said when asked about Bertans’ slow reentry. “So it’s great to see it go in; I think it does wonders for your offense.”
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Energy from the centers
Harrell logged his highest-scoring game since Nov. 22 – before the Wizards left on their trip – by halftime Wednesday. The backup center played with more of his usual gusto after a somewhat sluggish stretch and slammed five dunks in the first half alone, logging 15 points and three rebounds, and helping Washington rack up 40 points in the paint to Minnesota’s 24.
He also had five rebounds and three assists.
His partner in the paint also delivered. Gafford’s rebound total tied a season high and he added three blocks in a continuation of his strong play since refocusing his game on the road.
Gafford logged his first double-double of the season less than a week ago in Dallas. Now he’s got three straight.
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Hachimura on the sideline
The contest also included another step forward in Rui Hachimura’s long road back to on-court action. The 23-year-old appeared on the bench, dressed in street clothes, for the first time this season as continues to work his way back to playing condition. Hachimura is practicing with the team but has yet to participate in any live action; Unseld said playing three-on-three is next up for the forward.
“It’s not only good for him, it’s good for our group, because he’s one of us,” Unseld said. “To have our group starting to take shape and be whole, it’s just one more step in that direction.”
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