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Wizards stretch winning streak to four, powered by Kristaps Porzingis

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Kristaps Porzingis didn’t hide his delight at the end of a brief press conference after a smart performance in defeating the Utah Jazz on Saturday night.

“That’s it?” he said carefully before celebrating by raising both fists above his head. The 27-year-old was dying to go home to his favorite pastime – watching UFC. The Washington Wizards Center loves mixed martial arts competition so much that last month it watched for hours the night before a game in Cleveland, sipping espresso the entire time — and accidentally drinking so much caffeine that it hit before 4 a.m couldn’t fall asleep

Taking a cue from his favorite athletes, the affable Latvian has become something of a heavyweight for the Wizards. While Bradley Beal is still on hiatus as he improves his condition after testing positive for the coronavirus, Porzingis led Washington to a 102-92 win over the undermanned Memphis Grizzlies for his fourth straight win on Sunday night.

He did this by ruling the three-point line like he was a foot shorter. Porzingis scored 25 points in 7-for-15 shooting, hit a season-high six threes and set the pace for Washington’s second straight night of excellence from beyond the arc. The Wizards had set a season-high from the perimeter just 24 hours earlier with 16 three-pointers against Utah. They went 19 against Memphis (9-5).

G-League call-up Jordan Goodwin brings “goody” vibes to Wizards

That was all the Wizards (8-6) needed against a Grizzlies team missing Ja Morant (ankle pain) and Desmond Bane (toe pain). It wasn’t a pretty affair when you’ve sidelined all the stars – but at least the three of them looked good.

“Offensively we play much better with our pace, our willingness to move and share the ball. I think that’s why we get the threes we generate,” said Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. “We play faster out of makes, out of misses. We’ve done a better job with our distance and the guys are just starting to explore each other as far as how they want to get shots, how they want to get shots. And that takes a little time.”

Almost everyone shone for the Wizards that night. Deni Avdija drove a hot first quarter to a season-high 21 points in 8-for-16 shooting, including four three-pointers. Kyle Kuzma, who has been battling a non-Covid-19 illness for three games, led with 11 rebounds on the boards and added nine points.

For Porzingis, Sunday marked another start in a string of performances so reliably consistent they’re almost boring: he’s hit double digits in every game he’s played. Part of his success — particularly this weekend when he also had 31 points and 10 rebounds against the Jazz — was tied to the Wizards’ better offensive distance.

“I think the way we play for each other – we do the extra pass, we cut for each other. We do little things that might not be as visible, but those are the things that actually help us win,” he said. “And once we get Brad back, I think that’s going to take even more pressure off everyone else.”

Another part of it was that Porzingis was getting more and more into rhythm with his shot. That was his biggest criticism of his game in the early games of the season and something he paid special attention to over the summer. He’s changed his shooting routine and now tries to mimic game-like situations as much as possible, even if he’s just shooting around during practice or on the street – right down to his sleeve, the type of shirts he plays in and how warm he is body is.

Porzingis relied more on his shot in this game after scoring a season-low 10 points in the teams’ first meeting against the Grizzlies, a week earlier a loss in Memphis. He wasn’t exactly drawing from the UFC, but he had a different sport in mind.

“I realized I didn’t want to waste all that energy wrestling Steven Adams,” Porzingis said of the Grizzlies Center. “He’s a big guy and I’ve sort of gone back to my old age. I’m skinny now but when I played much skinnier against grown men in Spain it was often about avoiding contact and going on the block and just influencing the game like that.”

Here’s what else you should know about the Wizards win:

Beal was back on the sidelines as he recovered from Covid-19. Unseld said he hopes the guard will be back with the team for Wednesday’s home game against Oklahoma City.

Monte Morris’ reputation as a point guard who tends the ball predated his joining the Wizards. He credited his low turnover rate to his mother, who told him when he was a kid learning the game to pretend to be carrying her purse when he landed the ball. If someone gets too close to you, she says, don’t let them steal from mom’s bag.

Morris was excellent for the Wizards in that regard. He had six assists against two turnovers on Sunday after having nine assists and no turnovers on Saturday. His assist-to-turnover ratio (5.46) is the 11th-best in the league.

Jordan Goodwin’s impact on the Wizards usually extends beyond his stat line – and his stat lines are usually pretty good. The two-wayer had 10 points, eight rebounds and four assists on Sunday, but those numbers didn’t show how disruptive he was when he checked in early in the first half. Goodwin’s quick hands blew up several Memphis possessions, and his energetic defense, which he pulls through without excessive fouling, caused problems.

As part of the closing group in the fourth quarter, he had a highlight reel game where he missed a rebound but sprinted back for a block and heaved the ball to Will Barton for a dunk.

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