Key Legislature: Wizards 93 at Jazz 114 — Washington Loses 'Must-Win' Game by 21 | Wizards Blog Truth About

Key Legislature: Wizards 93 at Jazz 114 — Washington Loses ‘Must-Win’ Game by 21

Updated: March 12, 2016

TAI’s Key Legislature… The game’s defining moment, its critical event, the wildest basketball thing you ever saw, or just stuff that happened. Wizards at Jazz, Regular Season Game 64, March 11, 2016, by John Converse Townsend (@JohnCTownsend). Photo:


The Washington Wizards were in Salt Lake City Friday night to play the 29-35 Utah Jazz (but in the Western Conference hunt).

These Wizards—losers of three straight games and, well, simply losers overall (now four games under .500)—had recent history in their favor, as TAI’s Bryan Frantz pointed out in his pre-game Statements:

“The Wizards have beaten the Jazz four times in a row, with each win coming by at least five points and two coming by 10 or more, and the good guys have shot at least .470 from the field in each of those games. The last time the Wizards allowed the Jazz to shoot .470 was Feb. 17, 2012. In fact, Utah has only reached 90 points once in those four games, when they scored 91 on March 5, 2014.”

What you’ll read next is something of an oral history of this game.


Gordon Hayward: “This is a must-win game tonight,” he said during morning shootaround. “We have a lot of must-win games coming up.” Then, again: “Must-win,” he said.

Hayward’s comments were interesting, then and in hindsight, because they were mirrored almost exactly by Washington’s best player and everyday leader, John Wall.

John Wall: “These two games right here (against Utah and Denver, on Saturday) are the season, in my opinion,” he said. “This is the most important game of the season.”

Marcin Gortat, typically candid, had thoughts on what the Wiz needed to do to win at the Vivint Smart Home Arena on Friday night. “We got to rebound the ball,” he said. “If we ain’t going to rebound, we ain’t going to win shit.”


We’ll start with Gortat, the man who demanded a better effort on the glass, since we just left him. He finished with … just four rebounds, somehow tied for the team lead.

Part of the issue there is that Gortat played 19 minutes (and got into foul trouble), which makes me think that Randy Wittman again forgot that the Polish Machine exists, as he did in Portland (Gortat entered the game late in the fourth, after 11 straight minutes on the bench) and has done so many times this season.

Gortat’s limited run, even if he did pick up his fourth foul two minutes into the third quarter, is particularly odd, given A) Washington’s inability to rebound and B) Gortat came into the game having led the Wizards in boards in 48 of 63 games.

Former Wizards backup point guard Shelvin Mack led all players with a career-high 27 points on 17 shots (3-for-5 from 3), and filled out his box sheet with four assists and three rebounds. Mack impressed the guys at Salt City Hoops with cool “finishing around the rim,” even showing off a floater, and looked in control in the pick-and-roll. Also, once, in the first half, Mack got Alan Anderson to leave his feet with a pump-fake in the left corner, then gathered himself and buried a suddenly open 3.

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 12.07.17 PM

How did the Wizards let this must-win game escape them? As seen in the gameflow chart above, Washington failed to win a single quarter, were outscored 39-56 between the second and third quarters, and trailed by 20 (68-88) after 36 minutes. A replay review prevented the Wizards from trailing by even more—Rodney Hood’s 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter was waved off, having been released just after the buzzer.

Another issue: those “easy” transition baskets the Wizards have relied on in this sub-.500 campaign were not there on Friday night.

Washington came into the game second in the NBA in fastbreak points, behind the mighty, mighty Warriors. John Wall and Co. had zero fastbreak points in the first half and scored just six points in transition in the second half.

Also: The defensive issues that put the game out of reach for the Wizards in the second half were as clear as day in the first.

[Correction: John Wall ran into Trey Lyles, not Rudy Gobert, who’s seen in the right corner.]

Rodney Hood swished the wide-open 3 in the screenshot above to make it a nine-point game. The Jazz led by double digits less than a minute later and the Wizards were unable to close the gap. In fact, the gap widened: Utah led by as many as 22 points in the second half.

In the fourth quarter, the closest the Wizards got was 11 points, despite the Jazz not scoring a field goal for more than 4:30 in the period.



Gordon Hayward: “We had to protect our home court. This was going to be a tough game for sure and this was a game we needed to win.”

Mission: accomplished.

John Wall on the must-win game lost:

“Guys were getting to the basket, getting to floaters and stuff, and we were worried about them throwing it back to Gobert and Derrick Favors for lobs, so guards were getting layups.

“We were denying so much—trying to chase and deny—that they used it against us. When they handed the ball off, their bigs set good screens. They were getting downhill and getting to the free throw line or making wide-open 3s.”

Randy Wittman had a lot to say for a guy who put Ramon Sessions, Marcus Thornton, Otto Porter, Jared Dudley, and J.J. Hickson on the floor at the same time in what so many in Wizlandia called the most important game of the year. (New warm bodies Thornton and Hickson played a combined 27 minutes.)

“We walked the ball up the floor, settled for lazy contested shots, and didn’t attack the rim.

“We were just not into the ball. Their guards did whatever they wanted to do the whole night. The whole night. I don’t know how we can do that.

“That might be a record—114 points on 15 assists. Which means they’re taking us off the dribble. Everything is off the dribble. We can’t keep anybody in front of us. I don’t think we went out with any kind of desire.

“We didn’t come out with any sense of urgency tonight. I don’t know how we can do that with 18 games left. We talk about the same things over and over again.”

Yeesh. Once again, the much-maligned coach failed to motivate his team or make adjustments in a pivotal game. Not a good look.

On the other side, Utah boss Quin Snyder, whose team shot better than 50 percent from the floor for the first time in eight games: “It’s amazing how good your offense is when you make jump shots. Usually when we’re being aggressive we’re more efficient. We’re not turning it over as much.”

Also helpful: The Jazz were in the bonus early in the third quarter. Utah attempted 38 free throws (17 in the third period), making 29 on the night; the Wizards went 16-for-22.

Last but certainly not least, the ever-vocal Jared Dudley (emphasis mine):

“I think the pick-and-roll coverage was hurting us all night. I didn’t think we got into the ball early on to make our presence known. And then with that being said, we have to be able to make adjustments on the fly. The NBA’s about that and I thought we gave them the same coverage the whole night, and with him they just kept feeding off it. Sometimes, on a given night, you got to throw different looks. I thought that we did a poor job of that.

“I just thought we were frustrated. Some guys thought they were getting the bad end of the whistle, but it’s not on the refs. The first half with us was intensity. … And there’s going to be games you don’t make shots. They played well. Shelvin Mack had a great game. They did it. But even when you lose, I want to see the intensity where it feels like you’re playing in a playoff game, feels like you’re fighting for your life. And that’s what I didn’t see.

“We are a desperate team and we didn’t play desperate. We played like we’re already in the playoffs, not having to fight and claw, scratch, bite to do everything you can to win a game.

“The second unit, throughout the whole year, we’ve done a bad job of ball movement and it was just terrible tonight. We shoot terrible shots and that can hurt your defense because you can’t sit back. I just thought our shot selection, our ball movement, we’re not good enough to have one guy, pick-and-roll, shoot the ball every time. We have to move the ball from side-to-side.”

There’s a lot to digest in what Dudley said … a WHOLE lot.

I’ll briefly follow-up on one thing: the Wizards do take terrible shots. And it feels like since the Wizards traded away a first-round pick for Markieff Morris, the offense runs through him. Or, more accurately, the offense stops with him. Midrange Morris attempted 11 shots, third most on the night, but none of those came within six feet of the basket (one 3-pointer). Dudley is right. Too often, he comes off a screen, catches a pass from Wall or another guard, and fires a 16-foot jumper. Textbook #RandyBall, but not good enough.

Make no mistake, there’s just as much to analyze in Wall and Wittman’s comments: operational failure, for example, or questionable tactics, or poor execution. Much of the spoilage on the plate reminds me, once again, of what TAI’s Sean Fagan’s wrote after the loss to the Chicago Bulls—without Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic, and Joakim Noah:

“I praise Wittman for his honesty, but if he’s willing to come out and tell the general public that getting his players to focus and execute at maximum effort has been a running problem for three years, well, he basically just signed his own execution papers. What is more stunning is that Wittman states that it’s ‘this group of guys,’ which is a personal indictment of his ability to coach the current roster.” gives the Wiz a 17 percent chance at the playoffs.’s hamsters are less generous, giving the Wiz Kids a 7.8 percent shot at the postseason.

“I ain’t trying to waste a season,” Wall said in late-February.

He hasn’t, as Washington’s only All-Star. But the Wizards have—the other on-court talent, the coaching, and, most definitely, the team brass.

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John Converse Townsend
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
John has been part of the editorial team at TAI since 2010. He likes: pocket passes, chase-down blocks, 3-pointers. He dislikes: typos, turnovers, midrange jump shots.