Preview: Wizards take on Timberwolves Saturday in return to D.C.
Coming off a four-game road trip, the Wizards play their first home game in 10 days on Saturday, hosting the Timberwolves at 7:00 P.M. at Capital One Arena. Washington has won six of its last seven games and is coming off a two-point win over Denver on Thursday while Minnesota is looking to snap a six-game losing streak.
Wizards head coach Scott Brooks announced pregame that Davis Bertans (right knee soreness) would be play limited minutes after missing Thursday’s game in Denver.
Capital One Arena | 7:00 P.M. | NBCSW | 1500 AM
Wizards: G – Russell Westbrook, G – Bradley Beal, G – Garrison Mathews, F – Rui Hachimura, C – Moe Wagner
Timberwolves: G – Ricky Rubio, G – Josh Okogie, F – Anthony Edwards, F –Jarred Vanderbilt, C – Karl-Anthony Towns
Wizards: Davis Bertans (right knee soreness – available), (Thomas Bryant (left ACL injury – out), Ish Smith (right quadriceps strain – out)
Timberwolves: Malik Beasley (league suspension – out), D’Angelo Russell (left knee surgery – out)
Recent run puts Wizards back in contention
After a 3-1 road trip and six wins in their last seven games, the Wizards have quickly recalibrated the outlook of their season after a slow start. As Brooks noted frequently throughout Washington’s stretch of losses in January, all they needed was to get healthy and get some games under their belt. Just over a month removed from their six-game hiatus due to health and safety protocols, the Wizards have seen improved play out of key rotation players like Russell Westbrook, Davis Bertans, Rui Hachimura and Moe Wagner, played significantly better defense and earned wins against some of the league’s best teams.
At 12-18 on the season, Washington is still working to climb itself out of the hole it dug in December and January, but is right in the thick of things in a parity-riddled Eastern Conference. With only three teams currently above .500 on the season (Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Milwaukee), there is very little separation between seeds 4-15. As of February 26, Washington is just three games back of the four-seed, which would mean home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, and four games ahead of the last-place Pistons. Each team in the Eastern Conference is walking a fine line between a high playoff seed and a high lottery pick, with any streak of wins or losses capable of drastically swinging their place in the standings.
Hachimura drawing praise from teammates and coaches
Rui Hachimura is coming off a 20-point performance against the Nuggets on Thursday in which he played a team-high 38 minutes, the most he’s played in a game this season. The sophomore forward has scored 20 points twice this season with both games coming in the month of February. Hachimura’s greatest attribute as of late has been his consistency. Entering Saturday’s matchup with Minnesota, he’s scored 10-plus points in 10 consecutive games, the longest such streak of his career. Ask his teammates and coaches, though, and they’ll say that his greatest progress has come on the defensive end.
“Defensively, he’s active,” Brooks said after the win over Denver. “He’s using his length…It’s getting better every day, every game. That’s what I love about Rui. He wants to improve. He has the desire to get better.”
“I think he’s going a great job,” Russell Westbrook said of Hachimura after the Wizards matchup with the Clippers earlier this week. “He’s going a good job of guarding – it’s not an easy thing to do. He’s done a great job of coming in every night and focusing on (defense) and it’s helping us on offense as well.”
Minnesota looks to snap six-game slide
The Wolves coming into Saturday’s matchup having lost six consecutive games, including all three games on their current four-game Eastern Conference road trip that will wrap up with the Wizards. Going back further, Minnesota has lost 10 of its last 11 dating back to February 6. During their six-game slide, their primary issues have come on offense, where they rank 26th in the league with a 106.0 offensive rating. It won’t get any easier for the Wolves’ offense as they’ll be playing without one of their most important scoring threats for the next few weeks. Saturday will be Minnesota’s first game without Malik Beasley, who was suspended 12 games by the NBA for an off-court incident. Beasley has been crucial for the team this season, averaging 20.5 points in a team-high 33.1 minutes per game. In his absence, Karl-Anthony Towns will bear an even great burden on offense. Towns is currently averaging a team-high 22.5 points per game on 51.5% from the field and 40.3% from three to go along with 10.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game.