Saturday, November 26, 2022
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Preview: Washington Wizards (11-7) at Oklahoma City Thunder (6-12)

After dropping four of their last five, the Washington Wizards come into their game against the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Friday looking to recapture the spark that made them one of the surprises of the young season.

“We’re going the wrong way,” Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. said after his team started a three-game road trip with a 127-102 loss in New Orleans. “So we have to find a way to kind of refocus and get back to who we need to be.”

Washington star Bradley Beal said one of the biggest issues lately has been the lack of the aggression that helped the Wizards to a 10-3 start.

He called the Wizards’ latest efforts “passive,” saying they have waited until it was too late to flip the switch.

“We’re not the worst team and we’re not the best team right now,” Beal said. “We’ve got to get our juices back.

“We’ve got to be better. And that’s on me as a leader. I have to hold us more accountable, hold myself accountable, make sure we’re ready to go from the gate and then at halftime making sure we’re coming out with better starts, too.”

The Wizards have struggled with turnovers, with 17 or more in each of the last four contests.

“We’ve got to change things,” Unseld said. “Whether it’s changing our energy, changing our focus, it’s changing our approach — whatever it is, it’s gotta change. It’s one thing when you’re not making shots. That’s different. But a lot of things that we’ve seen, I think we can control. We’ve talked about it at length, but yet haven’t done it.”

Friday’s game is the first of two meetings between the Wizards and Thunder this season. Washington swept both games last season.

The Thunder come into Friday’s game having lost four consecutive games and six of their last seven, including a 110-104 home loss to Utah on Wednesday.

One of the bright spots recently has been the performance of rookie Josh Giddey.

With leading scorer Shai Gilgeous-Alexander having missed the last two games with a sprained right ankle, Giddey has averaged 17 points, eight assists and seven rebounds as he’s taken over the primary ballhandling duties.

Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault said the experience figures to help Giddey once Gilgeous-Alexander returns.

“Obviously we drafted him (Giddey) knowing that we had the (point guard) position filled in the lineup,” Daigneault said. “(We’re) betting on those two guys’ character and their intelligence and their ability to kind of coexist and help each other thrive.”

The 19-year-old Australian figures to be back in the point-guard role against the Wizards. Daigneault said there’s a chance Gilgeous-Alexander returns for the game, but he wasn’t overly optimistic.

“Obviously Shai’s only gonna be out for a small period of time, so I’m gonna have to keep learning how to play off the ball more,” Giddey said. “Hopefully me and Shai play together for a long, long time. It’s something we’re both gonna have to work together with — handling the ball and playing off it as well.”

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