Kyle Kuzma leads Wizards in game against depleted Blazers


January 9, 2022; Orlando, Florida, United States; Washington Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma (33) passes the ball against Orlando Magic forward Chuma Okeke (3) during the second quarter at the Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Kuzma is exceeding expectations for the Washington Wizards, who bring a three-game winning streak to Saturday’s game against the visiting Portland Trail Blazers.

The fifth-year pro is in the midst of his career-best streak, averaging 23.8 points, 10.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists while shooting 52.4% from the field in his last 11 matches.

Kuzma had 19 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in Wednesday’s 112-106 win over the Orlando Magic, finishing one assist short of his first career triple-double.

Kuzma was acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers in the offseason and became a No. 2 clear scorer for Washington, which could be without star Bradley Beal (health and safety protocol) for the third straight game on Saturday.

“He can be a very good player in this league,” Beal said of Kuzma. “With its size, its versatility. He has a lag every night. His IQ is super high. I think he doesn’t get much credit for that. He is a voluntary learner. He accepts criticism. He doesn’t have much self-esteem. He wants to win. You can see that.”

The Wizards continue their eight-game home run with a meeting against Portland, which fell to 2-14 on the road with Thursday’s 140-108 loss to the Denver Nuggets.

The understaffed Blazers played without Damian Lillard (abdominal tendinopathy), CJ McCollum (right lung), Norman Powell (health and safety protocol), Larry Nance Jr. (right knee), Anfernee Simons (personal reasons) and Cody Zeller (right knee).

Lillard underwent successful surgery Thursday to repair an abdominal injury and will be reevaluated in six weeks.

Dennis Smith Jr. started in place of Simons in Thursday’s loss and had 17 points to go with eight assists, two rebounds and a steal in 36 minutes. The Blazers trailed up to 37 points in the fourth quarter.

“You just want to try and execute your stuff,” Portland coach Chauncey Billups said. “We know what we have at the time, that’s what it is. But you just want to try to get out and run your stuff. It was just OK. We had a good time, but just OK. I thought we had a few guys trying to do a little too much.

Simons could return as soon as Saturday, while McCollum, Nance Jr. and Powell are all expected to join the team within the next two weeks.

The Trail Blazers face another tough matchup against Washington, which is back at full strength after battling a coronavirus outbreak.

The Wizards are also excited about the return of center Thomas Bryant, who returned to action on Wednesday after missing more than a year with an ACL injury.

Bryant had six points, a rebound and an assist in 11 minutes against Orlando.

“He looked good,” Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr said. To have him there in a live game, to get a feel for it, to come back at that pace. It was good for him. I was happy with the way he played and where he is at the moment.

Unseld Jr. will miss Saturday’s contest after entering NBA health and safety protocol. Assistant coach Pat Delany will assume the duties of interim head coach.

– Media at field level

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