Wizards edge Mavericks in first game after Rui Hachimura trade


DALLAS — When Wes Unseld Jr. woke up early Tuesday morning, he had an unusual item on his long to-do list ahead of the Wizards’ 127-126 victory over the Dallas Mavericks. Washington’s second-year coach had a new player to face.

Kendrick Nunn had taken a flight at 5 p.m. from Los Angeles to Dallas on Monday after learning he had been traded four hours earlier, packed up what he could of his house and said goodbye to his two young children. Suddenly, the third-year guard had a 10-day road trip on the wagon, and Rui Hachimura was heading west.

The Wizards, who sent Hachimura to the Los Angeles Lakers for Nunn and three second-round picks, opened the trade season well before the NBA’s Feb. 9 deadline. The move gave Washington some salary flexibility and the type of draft capital that president and General Manager Tommy Sheppard has historically used to grease future trades — Tomas Satoransky, drafted in 2012, was the latest second-round pick to become a rotation player with Washington.

Practically, Sheppard said Tuesday that the move allows the Wizards to play 2020 lottery pick Deni Avdija more. The front office believes that the 22-year-old will have a key role in the team’s future.

“Defensively, I think we need Deni on the floor more,” Sheppard said. “Better secondary playmaker, just turned 22 – I think he has a bright future. I think it’s difficult when you take his minutes and they’re cut in different ways.”

Sheppard called Avdija, a 6-foot-9, 210-pound forward averaging eight points, six rebounds and 2.5 assists entering Tuesday, the team’s second-best defender behind backup point guard Delon Wright and pointed to his talent as a defender on the wing and in the pick and roll. The third-year player is averaging 25.8 minutes, up slightly from his second year in the league (24.2), but has been in and out of the starting lineup.

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On Tuesday, he scored 15 points and added 10 rebounds in 32 minutes off the bench in a defense-heavy, up-and-down game that came down to the final seconds.

But Avdija is not the only player who could benefit from Hachimura’s departure. Unseld said Tuesday that there are also more opportunities for Kyle Kuzma to slide from small forward — where he’s started lately alongside Kristaps Porzingis at power forward and Daniel Gafford at center — back to power forward, where he originally flourished for the Wizards last season.

Kuzma started at power forward Tuesday with guard Corey Kispert at shooting forward and Gafford at center because Porzingis is out with a left ankle sprain.

“At the beginning of the season we play more against KP at the five, (Kuzma) was predominantly at the four and I think that helped him offensively. So (this one) pushes him back to the four spot a little bit, does allowing him to play off the bounce, attack from fours in coverage, which has been really good for us,” Unseld said. “Obviously Deni will have a little bit of an advantage as a playmaker, being able to have the ball in his hands and play pick and rolls a little more, but where those minutes are a little bit on the line. Whether it’s Deni at the three, Deni at the four, KP’s at the four, it gives us a lot more flexibility.”

The Wizards (21-26) also now have more financial flexibility, which Sheppard said will go at least in part toward backup guard Jordan Goodwin’s standard contract. Washington plans to convert the two-way player when it opens up a roster spot by waiving a player or making a trade. Goodwin was inactive Tuesday and under his current contract can play just six more NBA games this season.

Against Dallas (25-24), the shorthanded Wizards fought hard until the last minutes.

Without Porzingis, its second-leading scorer, Washington tried to match Luka Doncic’s scoring barrage by committee. It had six players in double figures behind Kuzma’s team-leading 30 points. Bradley Beal had 22 points and four assists and Kispert added 14 points in his 25th start.

No player on the floor was more awe-inspiring than Doncic, whose 41 points came without a three-pointer and who added 15 rebounds. But the wizards didn’t need to be more flashy. They just had to be sharper down the stretch.

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Washington closed out the game with Avdija on the floor and a small lineup after Gafford fouled out with nine points in 19 minutes. Beal made a three-pointer with 1:32 to play that put his team up by one, and Kispert made a smart move as he longed for a loose ball to save a possession that ended with Avdija at the free throw line, where he hit. both shots for a three-point lead.

Doncic hit a jumper to bring the Mavericks back within one. He stole the ball from Beal at the other end and drew a foul on the fast break to tie the game with 12.5 seconds left.

Kuzma hit a Hail Mary jumper from the wing and fouled Doncic, but just made his second free throw, which proved to be enough. Wright stole the ball from Doncic on the final play, giving the Wizards their third straight win to open their five-game road trip.

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