The Washington Post
Porzingis’s career best not enough for a win
Big man scores 43 points for weary Washington
Kristaps Porzingis always finds a silver lining. He’s the Wizards player who sits at news conferences and repeats that Washington is just one adjustment away from snapping a losing streak, from finally being able to close out tight games, from being a playoff contender.
The silver lining was easy to spot despite Wednesday’s 122-120 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, their fourth game in the past five days and second against Atlanta after they logged a win Feb. 28. Porzingis paced Washington with a career-high 43 points on 17-for-22 shooting, including seven threepointers.
But afterward, Porzingis seemed drained of his usual positivity for the second straight night.
“Even though, yes, we did good things, we fought hard, we can find all the excuses in the world — this is our fourth game in five days — but still,” Porzingis said. “We want to get the job done. We want to get the job done, and it would be a completely different feeling. But we didn’t. So we have to live with this.”
After the Wizards barely pulled out a win Tuesday over the league-worst Detroit Pistons, Porzingis was a touch more serious than usual, saying in an interview after the game he struggles most when he can’t feel his team’s desire. The Wizards lacked energy in Detroit, couldn’t build momentum against the Pistons’ backups and sleepwalked their way to a win at the buzzer.
On Wednesday, he had no answers to questions such as why the Wizards continuously give up big leads and how he would describe their disposition. They didn’t lack effort, he said, nor did he feel the team was complacent. The usually forthcoming center couldn’t pinpoint the issue.
Porzingis’s words — or lack thereof — were a reminder that Washington (31-35) isn’t just striving to make the playoffs solely for the sake of improvement over last season, in which they finished 12th in the Eastern
Hawks at Wizards Tomorrow, 7 p.m., NBCSW
Conference and missed the postseason. The Wizards are also trying to show Porzingis, who owns a $36 million player option this summer, and Kyle Kuzma, who plans to explore free agency, that they could have a bright future in D.C. and this team is worth investing in.
Porzingis, 27, has said the Wizards’ performance the rest of the season is one of the factors he’s considering when deciding his next move.
“Of course we want to make the playoffs, that’s the main thing,” Porzingis said Tuesday. “Because we have to finish on a positive note, and also for myself, going into next season or this offseason, it’s important that we want to be a winning team and show there is some excitement and things to look forward to, no? Definitely want to end on a high note and make the playoffs.”
Asked his general frustration level, Porzingis reminded that he is an optimist. But there have been some trying moments for him since the all-star break.
“What frustrates me the most is when we have been down or we’re not playing our best basketball and I don’t feel like we want it. I hate that. We were supposed to be the most hungry team out there. We haven’t done anything. We’re not even in the top-six playoff picture,” Porzingis said Tuesday. “So I don’t like when we’re not hungry. That’s what bothers me the most. But if I see that, like the last couple games we lost against Toronto and Milwaukee? I felt the hunger in us. I felt like we wanted it, we were going after it, we were fighting hard, it was a physical game — I can live with that. It’s only when we’re not fighting that it bothers me.”
The Wizards’ defense Wednesday was lacking in the first half, but their offense kept things competitive despite 17 turnovers (that led to 20 Atlanta points). Coach Wes Unseld Jr. stuck primarily to an eight-man rotation even with the high volume of games his team has played lately — backup center Taj Gibson played just four minutes and backup guard Jordan Goodwin less than a minute in the closing moments. Neither Kendrick Nunn nor Anthony Gill played.
The Wizards shot 56.6 percent from the field and had strong performances from Bradley Beal (24 points, eight assists) and Kuzma (25 points, 10 rebounds) in addition to Porzingis.
But the end was messy. With his team trailing by three points with 52 seconds to play, Beal missed a free throw and a layup in traffic. Deni Avdija collected the rebound but lost the ball, and Trae Young put the game out of reach at the foul line with 15 seconds left.
Porzingis’s final three-pointer as time ran out served as a footnote.
“It’s a frustrating game. Frustrating loss,” he said. “But what other option do we have than to keep going, keep pushing and try to get these wins.”