LOS ANGELES — Wes Unseld Jr. couldn’t speak to others’ feelings, but he didn’t hesitate to share his own. Just how long did it take his Washington Wizards to recover from the their previous game against the Clippers, that late-January game in which Los Angeles pitched a 35-point comeback?
“I don’t know if I’m over it yet,” Unseld said.
The Wizards players who were a part of that horror show could not afford to dwell on it Wednesday at Crypto.com Arena. Many who were on the court in the rematch against the Clippers weren’t there for the first edition, so the memory shouldn’t have haunted Washington, Unseld argued.
But on Thursday night with a late third-quarter lead evaporating in front of them, the Wizards played with such desperate freneticism that it seemed impossible they weren’t motivated by some extraordinary force. They matched nearly every wild Clippers’ three-pointer with one of their own. It did not matter in a 115-109 loss.
In a fourth quarter defined by tight momentum swings — there were five lead changes, but neither team ever led by more than six points — the difference could be found in the details. Washington had three costly turnovers. It flubbed a play call coming out of a timeout. And after successfully getting to the free throw line for three quarters, it did not shoot a single free throw in the final 12 minutes, a symptom of what Unseld called a mind-set shift that resulted in far more jumpers than aggressive drives in the lane.
Those were the type of possessions that fueled the Wizards to a 10-point lead in the third quarter — they outscored the Clippers 58-38 in the paint.
“We’ve got to do a better job of getting organized, I’ll take the blame for that,” Kyle Kuzma said. “I was a little too passive, standing around. I should’ve been more of an initiator, going for it more. We just didn’t execute that last play … it’s kind of a reoccurring thing for us, coming out of [timeouts] and messing up plays.”
Los Angeles didn’t sew things up until a three-pointer from Nicolas Batum — its 16th of the night — put them up by two with 31.2 seconds to play. The Wizards’ response was an awkward floater from Kristaps Porzingis from the side of the basket that missed badly.
Porzingis led Washington with 19 points in his second game since being acquired in a trade. Kuzma had 17 and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope tallied 16.
The Clippers’ Reggie Jackson led all scorers with 31 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter alone when the Wizards loosened their grip just enough.
“We competed, I guess if that makes everyone happy,” Kuzma said. “We still can compete for 45 minutes and lose a game.”
Here’s what else you need to know from Wednesday’s game:
Hachimura’s hot streak continues
Hachimura delivered 18 points the old fashioned way — from the midrange and at the rim. After shooting lights out from beyond the arc since returning to the Wizards in January, the forward had just one Wednesday but was effective and aggressive at the rim.
Porzingis will sit in Portland
Porzingis will not play on the second night of the back-to-back against Portland on Saturday night as he ramps back up to a full workload coming off a bone bruise in his right knee. Unseld expects Porzingis to be able to play without limitations after that, meaning the big man would be available to play in the Wizards’ final back-to-back of the season later this month. They play at the New York Knicks on March 18 and host the Los Angeles Lakers on March 19.
Schakel signs a two-way contract
Washington waived guard Joel Ayayi and signed guard Jordan Schakel to a two-way contract, the team announced Wednesday. Schakel, 23, was a part of the wave of players who appeared in a handful of games during the team’s coronavirus outbreak in December, playing scant minutes on a 10-day contract.
He averaged 14.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game with the Wizards’ G League affiliate, the Capital City Go-Go, this season. His 100 three-pointers rank eighth overall and are the second-most by a G League rookie this year.