Thunder try to snap skid, visit Rui Hachimura, Wizards

Sports

More than six months after his last NBA game and more than five months since playing for Japan in the Tokyo Olympics, Rui Hachimura is back playing for the Washington Wizards.

After making his season debut in Sunday’s win in Orlando, Hachimura’s comeback continues Tuesday when the Wizards host the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first contest of an eight-game homestand.

“I’ve been waiting for this moment. I had to take a little bit of time off, but I’m so happy back on the court and playing with these guys,” Hachimura said. “I missed the feeling.”

Hachimura declined to go into much detail about why he was away, saying he was dealing with a personal situation and making reference to needing a break from a demanding schedule. That slate included the Wizards playoff run, which stretched into early June, and the Olympics, where Hachimura was one of the faces of the Japanese contingent.

But Washington is happy to have him back.

After a 10-3 start, the Wizards dipped below .500 briefly before getting back to the break-even mark with Sunday’s win.

“I think he gives you that physicality that we lack at times,” Washington coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “His size, his ability to attack off the bounce — he missed a couple of open shots that I think he’ll make.

“I’m excited to see how this unfolds.”

And Hachimura’s return coincides with a stretch where the Wizards need to make a push if they are to get back to their early-season success.

Washington figures to get a further boost from the return of Montrezl Harrell, who cleared the NBA’s COVID-19 protocol and figures to return against the Thunder after missing seven games.

Oklahoma City comes into Tuesday’s game having lost four consecutive games and six of its last seven.

The Thunder will play six of their next seven away from home.

Tuesday’s game is the second and final meeting of the season between the teams.

The Wizards won 101-99 on Nov. 26 in Oklahoma City as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander missed a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer.

It’s not just desperation situations where Gilgeous-Alexander is struggling from beyond the 3-point line, though.

Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder’s leading scorer, is shooting a career-worst 27.7 percent from beyond the arc and Oklahoma City is last in the NBA in 3-point shooting at 30.8 percent.

Over the Thunder’s last seven games, Gilgeous-Alexander is 5-of-24 from beyond the arc.

Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault said Gilgeous-Alexander doesn’t have to be among the league’s best 3-point shooters, but that he needs the threat of the shot to keep defenses honest.

“The biggest key for him with his ability to hit the paint is that teams respect it,” Daigneault said. “If the defense is respecting and honoring that shot, that’s good for our offense, and it creates space for him and for whoever else has the ball.”

–Field Level Media

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