Wizards get test vs. Jazz
WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards hope they have turned a corner despite the end of their four-game winning streak. Wednesday's rematch against a Utah Jazz team that beat them by 47 points last month will serve as a good test of that theory.
The Wizards (23-17) returned home on Dec. 13 a mere game above .500 after a frustrating road trip that included a 116-69 loss at Utah. Since then, Washington won 10 of 14 games, looking more like a team with sights on contending for the Eastern Conference title. That is assuming some recent late game struggles are not here to stay.
Fourth-quarter shooting woes nearly took down the Wizards on Friday in Memphis, though Washington held on for a 102-100 win despite letting the Grizzlies rally from 17 points to one with 18 seconds left.
Misfires late against Milwaukee -- and another star turn from Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo -- did lead to a 110-103 loss on Saturday.
The Wizards were outscored 28-18 in the fourth quarter against the Bucks after the Grizzlies dominated 28-15 in the final 12 minutes. Washington shot a combined 7 of 35 from the field in the fourth quarter of both games. Leading scorers Bradley Beal, who is poised for his first All-Star appearance, and John Wall were the primary culprits, shooting 1 of 20.
"We take it on our shoulders each and every night. At the end of the day, if the ball is going in, we wouldn't be having this conversation," said Beal, who scored 20 points against the Bucks. "At the end of the day, we're going to be the ones taking the shots down the stretch. We're confident, the coach is confident, our teammates are confident. There are times where we could move it a little more, but with us being the accountable players, we're always going to take the shots."
Despite the loss, Wizards coach Scott Brooks did not harp on the miscues but focused on the effort, something that lacked at times during Washington's uneven stretch earlier in the season.
"I thought our guys battled," Brooks said. "It was a great physical basketball game; it was like a playoff game. Both teams competed. (The Bucks) just made a couple more plays down the stretch of the game."
The Jazz (16-24) made more than a couple of more plays in last month's utter domination over the Wizards. Utah led 64-30 at halftime, shot 56.6 percent from the field and sank 16 3-pointers en route to a sixth consecutive win. The momentum ended right there as the Jazz immediately dropped four in a row.
Utah is 3-13 in its last 16 games. Sunday's 103-102 setback at Miami despite 27 points from Donovan Mitchell was its third straight loss. It was the 11th game in a row without center and defensive presence Rudy Gobert (knee).
After Heat guard Josh Richardson's layup with 5.1 seconds remaining, the Jazz knocked out the ball in the hands of their star rookie. With the option of passing to teammate Rodney Hood, Mitchell fired a running 18-footer that missed the mark.
"They double-teamed me, which meant Hoodie was open, so I should have made the right read instead of shooting that," Mitchell said via the Deseret News.
Utah is 10-3 when holding opponents below 100 points. Without the shot-blocking Gobert, the Jazz are allowing 106.5 points in the last 11 games. They are losing, a lot.
"I don't think personally you can get used to it -- losing," said Mitchell pre-game to the Salt Lake Tribune. "I don't think it's a winning mentality. ... It's tough because you gotta forget about it, but you've also got to use it as motivation to get better."
Wizards starting small forward Otto Porter is expected to play after missing Saturday's game with hip and back injuries.
Updated January 10, 2018