Former Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah once said, “What’s so great about Cleveland?” Washington Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma had his own, more explicit version of that on Wednesday night against the Cavaliers.
Kuzma got hot from beyond the arc, leading the Wizards to a hard-fought victory over one of the most surprising teams in the Eastern Conference. He also fired back at a fan who claimed Kuz hadn’t accomplished anything outside of playing with LeBron James.
Kyle Kuzma provided the heroics as the Wizards edged the Cavaliers
Kyle Kuzma gave the Washington Wizards a lift when they needed it the most.
Washington struggled to build anything on the offensive end of the floor on Wednesday night. Bradley Beal, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope combined to shoot 2-of-15 from beyond the arc. Beal — who in the offseason sought to improve his perimeter efficiency — made just four of his 19 total field-goal attempts. However, Kuzma made several big shots.
The 26-year-old went 6-of-9 from beyond the arc, pouring in 22 key points. The biggest bucket came with under 20 seconds to play and the Wizards trailing by two. Beal found Kuzma in the left corner, and the 6-foot-10 forward connected on a triple to give Washington the lead.
Kuzma buried the Cavs. He also clapped back at a heckling fan intent on getting into his head.
Kuzma issued a brutal retort to a heckling Cavs fan
Unbeknownst to fans and reporters at the time, Kyle Kuzma used a Cavaliers fan’s sign about LeBron James as motivation.
Kuzma said after the game that he had some dialogue with a fan in the crowd who brought a sign that said, “LeBron won Kuzma his ring.” So, after making the go-ahead three-pointer, Kuzma had a pointed message (h/t Spencer Davies of Basketball News) for the fan.
“Without LeBron, Cleveland wouldn’t be s***.”–Kyle Kuzma to a Cavs fan, via Basketball News
Truthfully, it’s hard to spot the lie, both from the fan’s standpoint as well as in assessing Kuzma’s response.
LeBron powered the Los Angeles Lakers to an NBA title with a Finals MVP performance in 2020. It’s unlikely, though, that Kuzma would try to deny the Lakers could have won the championship without James.
At the same time, Cleveland sports experienced one of the longest droughts in history until LeBron James and the 2016 Cavaliers breathed life back into the city. Very few athletes have meant as much to a city as LeBron means to Cleveland.
In any case, Kuzma is only just beginning an entirely new chapter of his career. He finds himself on a Wizards team that is one of the best surprises in the NBA early in the 2021-22 season.
Washington is benefiting from the Russell Westbrook trade
The Wizards hit the reset button when they traded Russell Westbrook to the Lakers, getting back three players who could contribute to winning. That’s just what Washington is doing.
Following Wednesday’s win over the Cavs, the Wizards are tied with the Chicago Bulls for the best record (8-3) in the Eastern Conference. All three guys acquired in the Westbrook trade are playing a significant role.
Kuzma is averaging 14.8 points and 9.1 rebounds while shooting a career-high 38.5% from deep on 6.5 attempts per contest. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope satisfies his role as a 3-and-D guy, and Montrezl Harrell looks like a strong candidate to win his second Sixth Man of the Year Award after posting 18.3 points and 9.3 rebounds with a 27.7 player efficiency rating through 11 games.
The most exciting element of the Wizards’ early-season success is they don’t even appear close to their ceiling. Beal is shooting just over 40% from the field and a putrid 25% from three-point land. Thomas Bryant has yet to play a single game as he continues his recovery from an ACL injury sustained last season. He should add frontcourt depth alongside Harrell and Daniel Gafford, who excels as an interior defender and rim-runner off the bench. Spencer Dinwiddie gives Washington added playmaking as a combo guard.
Washington is a sneaky challenger in the Eastern Conference, especially if it keeps playing with the kind of moxie Kuzma exhibited on Wednesday night in Cleveland.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.