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Before Wizards coach Scott Brooks finished his virtual postgame press conference Wednesday night, his sharpshooting forward Dāvis Bertāns had already sat down at a secondary location to chat with media members. Minutes earlier, the Wizards had beaten the Denver Nuggets, 130-128, with Bertāns leading the way, hitting nine of 11 three-pointers to finish with a career-high 35 points.
“Ask him where he was late December,” Brooks joked. “We needed a couple of those shots then.”
To be clear, Brooks was kidding and went on to praise Bertāns for working his way back to being a lethal three-point shooter after missing training camp and additional time due to the NBA’s health and safety protocol, but the sentiment that the Wizards needed and will need this version of Bertāns stands. In the past two games, the 28-year-old has scored a combined 57 points and hit 15 of 19 three-pointers. Both times the Wizards (9-17) won.
The team’s prior losses and his poor shooting have weighed heavily on Bertāns.
“Those couple months been frustrating as hell,” he said. “Can’t sleep at night after the games thinking about it ’cause we had a lot of games that we were close. I’ve taken nine, 10 shots that I would usually make at least five, six of them, and go one for 10, two for 10 … As a competitor in my position, you kind of blame yourself a little bit. You think about it after the game, what I could’ve done better, how I could’ve helped the team. For me, it’s simple, just make the shots.”
During the offseason, the Wizards signed Bertāns to a five-year, $80 million contract to stay in D.C. specifically for his three-point skills. But the Latvia native arrived late to training camp due to visa issues and struggled to find his form. In many of the Wizards’ losses, Bertāns’ shots consistently came up short.
“When you’re a shooter and a high level shooter, you need those legs and he’s coming back, and he’s fought through it,” Brooks said. “He’s a mentally tough kid … He was missing shots that he normally makes in his sleep and he’s back to making them and we’re all excited for him.”
Against the Nuggets, Bertāns never hesitated to shoot the ball. Even when he didn’t make the shot, the threat of his shooting forced opponents to close in and foul him. The win against the Houston Rockets on Feb. 15 gave Bertāns the confidence he’s sometimes lacked this season.
“I think it’s just last game was like flipping a switch, and everything started working better for me,” he said. “Getting good looks early, the hoop just getting bigger and bigger, I think the couple threes I missed, I felt like those should’ve gone in too … Some of the shots that I took, those I take only if I’m 100 percent sure it’s going in, and that’s where it is right now.”
If not for the bench players and a surge in the second quarter after Russell Westbrook ripped into some of his teammates, the Wizards likely would have lost to the Nuggets after giving up 41 points in the first quarter. The Wizards still nearly found a way to lose late in the game before Bradley Beal sealed the win with his free throws.
Bertāns made a difference. But to Beal, it wasn’t just his shooting.
“He’s always going to shoot it, he’s gonna shoot it if he’s 0 for 50 or he’s 50 for 50, he’s always going to shoot and that’s what we want him to do,” Beal said. “And he knows that it was a great game for him tonight, but even then, I think it was just other stuff in the game he was doing that got him going. He was locked in defensively, he was getting rebounds, he was putting his body in plays, and I think that definitely just carried over to offense.”
With a tough stretch of road games ahead, this version of Bertāns has returned not a moment too soon.
Photo by All-Pro Reels, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.