The Washington Wizards have been one of the surprise teams of the early season, but first-year head coach Wes Unseld Jr. isn’t looking too far ahead.
The Wizards visit the Miami Heat on Thursday in the front end of a two-game set. The teams meet again in Washington on Saturday.
Unseld’s team is off to a 10-4 start, while Miami improved to 10-5 with a 113-98 win over the visiting New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday.
Washington had its five-game winning streak come to an end Wednesday with a 97-87 road loss to the Charlotte Hornets. The Wizards shot 8 of 42 (19 percent) from 3-point range.
Bradley Beal scored a team-high 24 points for Washington, which is off to its best start in 47 years.
“The season’s still young and I don’t want to get overly excited,” Unseld said. “Of course we’re happy with where we are and, for the most part, how we’ve played. But we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We still have a lot of work to do. That’s the constant messaging.”
The Wizards will be tested by a Miami team that has won three in a row following a three-game losing streak.
Jimmy Butler returned Wednesday after missing three games with a sprained right ankle and recorded a triple-double with 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in the victory over New Orleans.
Playing without starters Bam Adebayo (bruised left knee) and Kyle Lowry (rest), Miami received a scoring boost from guards Tyler Herro (19 points) and Max Strus (15).
Center Udonis Haslem also contributed with seven quality minutes off the bench. Coach Erik Spoelstra said the 19-year veteran could see more frequent spurts of playing time this season.
“This is a little bit more of a veteran team and he fits,” Spoelstra said. “He’s right in his element. Those guys all speak the same language.”
While Lowry is expected to return Thursday, Adebayo’s status is unclear. The 6-foot-9 forward has missed the past two games, but Spoelstra is optimistic that he’ll be back soon.
“Our schedule has been pretty intensive, and he hasn’t had any opportunity for (the knee) to really get better,” Spoelstra said. “It hasn’t gotten worse, but he hasn’t gotten better. So we’ll just continue to treat him and evaluate him.”
Miami has won seven of its past nine meetings against Washington, which boasts a strong bench led by third-year center Daniel Gafford.
The Arkansas product finished one point shy of his career high on Wednesday, scoring 20 points and grabbing nine rebounds in 24 minutes.
While Gafford has been trending upward, Wizards guard Kyle Kuzma is looking to snap a mini-slump after scoring five points on 2-of-12 shooting at Charlotte.
Kuzma is 10 of 36 from the floor over his last three games for Washington, which has been playing without forward Rui Hachimura (personal reasons).
Unseld has given Deni Avdija a greater role in recent games and was rewarded on Monday when the second-year forward recorded his first double-double of the season, 11 points and 10 rebounds. He added nine points and 11 boards against the Hornets.
“Part of it is maybe he had it and I just didn’t know about it,” Unseld said, “but he’s stepped up to the challenge and has been able to guard, keep matchups for us. His size and physicality, his ability to move his feet — it’s good to see, because I’m not going to say that I knew he could do it.”
–Field Level Media