Daniel Gafford’s career night helps Wizards bounce back against Timberwolves

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The Washington Wizards beat the Timberwolves 132-114 at Minnesota on Tuesday night. Here are five observations of what happened…

Bouncing Victory

Knocked out of the playoffs and seemingly with little to play, the Wizards are suddenly playing some of their best basketball of the season. Well, Sunday’s 42-point loss to the Celtics isn’t included. But even with that loss, they’ve won five of their last seven after beating the Timberwolves on the road Tuesday night.

Believe it or not, they haven’t won that many games in seven games since mid-November, when they were 10-3. It’s unexpected and some might argue in vain, but it happens.

Of course, that won’t help their draft lottery odds, but the Wizards hope they can build momentum for next season. The other day, Kristaps Porzingis spoke about the 2019-20 Phoenix Suns and how they went undefeated in the Orlando bubble to close out the year.

After that season they traded for Chris Paul and the following year they made it to the NBA Finals. Porzingis made sure to say he wasn’t making a direct comparison, but perhaps the Suns’ positive trajectory helped them convince Paul to join. It is perhaps a potential advantage for wizards who win, that they can use their progress to attract others.

Who knows? To be determined this summer. For now, the Wizards are winning like they haven’t been able to in months.

double big

In the roughly month since Porzingis joined the Wizards roster, we hadn’t seen a ton of head coach Wes Unseld Jr.’s experience in terms of playing with d other centers on the list. That was until Tuesday night, when Porzingis was there for multiple periods alongside Daniel Gafford, giving the Wizards plenty of length and size in their frontcourt.

It was just the first comebacks but both seemed to put a lot of pressure on the Wolves defence. Porzingis is the biggest player on the pitch and can score both inside and outside. Gafford, meanwhile, is very quick for his position and is a rim-running threat in the pick-and-roll. They also both block shots and have some potential as a rebounding duo. For the game, Porzingis had 25 points and eight boards while Gafford had 24 points and 11 rebounds.

Gafford was great

Porzingis was his usual self, but Gafford seemed to really benefit from playing alongside the ‘Unicorn’. There was plenty of space for him and the result was one of his best games in a while. Gafford shot 10-11 from the field and scored his 24 points in 31 minutes.

One guy who didn’t benefit from the change was Thomas Bryant, who finally got a few decent minutes over the weekend in the blowout loss to the Celtics. He stayed out of the rotation in this one, as Unseld Jr. rode with just nine guys. Anthony Gill and Raul Neto were also on the outside. All three are pending free agents.

Not much defense

It was a great game for those who like attack and not so much for those who prefer defense. There were a lot of goals and few saves. The Wizards, for example, trailed by three points late in the first quarter despite shooting 62.5 percent from the field and 5-for-9 from three. They had seven threes and 38 points in the paint in the first half, but trailed by just one point. They had 101 points in three quarters and for the game they shot 55.4% and had 13 triples.

The reason they weren’t big is because the Timberwolves were also doing well. Karl Anthony-Towns had a big game with 26 points, including 15 in the first quarter. Malik Beasley went for 14 points from four threes. Minnesota made 14 threes as a team. The Wizards, although to their credit, were much better defensively in the first half and as a result, they took the win.

A model to follow?

You wouldn’t have known it watching this game, but the Timberwolves have made tremendous progress defensively this season. They’ve been much better on both ends of the court, but the improvement in defense looks noticeable for the Wizards, who hope to make a big leap in that area next season. Minnesota went from the 28th-ranked defense to the 13th-ranked, so basically they skipped half the league. And they did so without significantly reshuffling their staff.

Wolves had young, athletic strikers like Jaden McDaniels and Jarrod Vanderbilt stepping forward and they brought in Pat Beverley, but the improvement was not due to a drastic change. They also went from an average 3-point shooting team to one of the best in the league. Defense and 3-point shooting are the two things the Wizards probably need to fix more than anything this summer. Maybe they can learn something from how the Timberwolves did it.

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