Kuzma leads Wizards past Irving, in-flux Nets, 113-112
WASHINGTON (AP) — In a matchup of teams that were transformed at the trade deadline, the Washington Wizards got an immediate boost from improved chemistry.
The Brooklyn Nets are focused squarely on the future.
Kyle Kuzma had 15 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists for his first career triple-double, leading the injury- and trade-depleted Wizards to a 113-112 win over Kyrie Irving and the equally in-flux Nets on Thursday night.
Raul Neto scored a season-high 21 points in his first start of the season, and reserve Anthony Gill had a career-high 15 points for the Wizards, who took control at the end of a scoreless third quarter from Irving and hung on in the closing seconds.
“Just in the huddle, I could sense everybody had a different vibe, an energy. It was just different. I could feel it,” Washington’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said. “No agendas. There’s one agenda out there, and that’s to get the win.”
Irving scored 31 points as the only star on the Nets’ makeshift roster as Brooklyn’s season-worst skid extended to 10 games. Cam Thomas added 27 points.
Earlier Thursday, the Nets broke up their Big Three, sending James Harden and Paul Millsap to the Philadelphia 76ers for disgruntled point guard Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and draft picks. Brooklyn had hoped Harden, Irving and Kevin Durant could win a championship, but the trio played only 16 games together.
“I can’t speak for Philly, but we got guys who want to be here, guys who want to play,” Blake Griffin said. “We’re excited about that.”
Irving said he could sense that Harden’s time with Brooklyn was coming to an end.
“It is mentally, physically and emotionally draining at times when you have a lot going on, and I want James to be at peace, I want Ben to be at peace,” Irving said. “Let’s just focus on us as basketball players and seeing where we really end up at the end of the season.”
With Durant out with a left knee injury and Irving only able to play road games because he isn’t vaccinated against COVID-19 as required by New York City, the Nets used their 30th starting lineup in 55 games.
It wasn’t good enough against the Wizards, who won for the third time in 12 games. Washington lost star Bradley Beal to season-ending wrist surgery this week and made several deals of its own on Thursday, adding Kristaps Porzingis and trading away Spencer Dinwiddie, Davis Bertans, Montrezl Harrell and Aaron Holiday.
Dinwiddie, who was coming off an ACL injury, struggled to connect with his teammates in his first season in Washington, saying recently he tried to take a leadership role but “it wasn’t necessarily welcomed.”
“We started off really well and we just hit a rough patch and became really separated,” Kuzma said.
While the Nets still have reasonable hope of a deep playoff run in an Eastern Conference that lacks a dominant team, Washington’s final 28 games are likely to be a dry run for next year and beyond.
“Our main message prior to the game was, hey man, we’ve got 30 games left. It just all depends on us, how we want to finish this season,” Kuzma said. “We can continue to dwell and point fingers or we can play free and have a lot of fun out there.”
The Wizards woke up an indifferent home crowd with a 13-0 run starting late in the third quarter for an 89-78 lead, the first double-digit advantage for either team. Thomas Bryant beat the shot clock with a corner 3 to make it 100-87 midway through the fourth quarter, and the Nets couldn’t rally despite 14 fourth-quarter points from Irving.
Brooklyn had a chance to tie it at the buzzer, but Thomas airballed a 3 and Griffin converted a meaningless putback.
COACH IN TIME OUT
Wizards player development coach Mike Batiste was suspended two games without pay for going into the stands to confront a heckling fan near the end of Monday night’s 121-100 loss to Miami, the NBA announced Thursday. Batiste had to be led off the court by Harrell in what turned out to be the center’s last game with Washington.
Nets: Brooklyn’s latest starting lineup included Irving, Thomas, Griffin, Patty Mills and Kessler Edwards. ... Irving played in his 13th game since his season debut on Jan. 5. Brooklyn fell to 4-9 with Irving in the lineup, losing its last seven. ... The Nets were missing F Nic Claxton (left hamstring), F LaMarcus Aldridge (left ankle), Durant (left knee) and G Joe Harris (left ankle surgery).
Wizards: Washington used its 15th lineup in 54 games. Neto was joined by Kuzma, Bryant, Corey Kispert and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Kuzma is the only Wizard who has started every game. ... C Daniel Gafford missed his second straight game in the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
Nets: At Miami on Saturday.
Wizards: Host Sacramento on Saturday.
Follow Ben Nuckols at https://twitter.com/APBenNuckols
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports