Opening Statements: Wizards at Jazz, Game 64 | Wizards Blog Truth About

Opening Statements: Wizards at Jazz, Game 64

Updated: March 11, 2016

Washington Wizards vs Utah Jazz - Nov. 17, 2012

Teams: Wizards at Jazz
Time: 9:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City, UT
Television: CSN
Radio: WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Jazz fav’d by 4.5 points.

Things seem bad, but have no fear, Wizards fans: Bradley Beal, Jarell EddieAlan Anderson, Markieff Morris, Bradley Beal again, Marcus Thornton is here to save us!

The Wizards won seven of nine coming out of the All-Star break, in no small part because they played the Sixers twice, the Timberwolves and Pelicans once, and the Cavaliers-minus-LeBron once. Oh yeah, and also the Pistons, who had just dramatically shaken up their roster. And the Jazz.

The good news is they play the Jazz again! The bad news is literally almost everything else relevant to this game, not the least of which is A) This time the Wizards play in Utah and B) This time the Wizards aren’t coming off a week of rest.

Things could be going better in Wizards-land.

Hey, things could be going worse. As has been the case for pretty much the entire season, all the Wizards really need to surge into the playoffs is a few consecutive weeks of consistently good play. But because they haven’t actually managed that at any point this season, there’s not much reason to think that’ll happen now.

Friday’s meeting with the Jazz would be a great time to start one such run, however. The Jazz are just 29-35, and Saturday night’s opponents, the Denver Nuggets, are slightly worse at 26-38. Then a home showdown—now on national television—with the 33-31 Pistons followed by an equally important home game against the 32-30 Bulls caps a four-game stretch that, if filled with four wins, could launch the Wizards into contention for the eighth spot in the East. Add a pair of games against the 76ers and Knicks, and by March 20, the Wizards could rather easily sport a 36-33 record. If that were to happen, a two-games-in-three-nights series against the Hawks would actually be relevant to both teams’ postseason aspirations. Even splitting that pair would put the Wizards, who would then play the Timberwolves and Lakers, in remarkably good shape.

To recap: The Wizards play their next 10 games against teams with a combined 262-385 (.405) record. A team in the Eastern Conference with a .405 record would fall between the Knicks and the Nets for 14th in the conference.

But it starts Friday in Utah. 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.

While Washington’s struggles are very frustrating and very real, Utah has faltered even more. After an overtime win in Dallas on Feb. 9, the Jazz were 26-25 and riding a seven-game win streak. They went 2-3 over their next five games, then proceeded to lose seven of eight to fall to 29-35.

For the Jazz to pull out the victory, Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors will have to have strong games, but the key will be Rudy Gobert. Teams that employ legitimate rim protectors like Gobert, Hassan Whiteside and Bismack Biyombo have given the Wizards problems all season; the Wizards are 2-6 in games in which their opponent has blocked at least seven of their shots this season, and they’re 0-4 when that number reaches nine blocks. Gobert is averaging 2.3 blocks per game, and if he gets a hand on a few shots early, expect to see fewer and fewer drives to the basket as the game progresses. That’s what happened when the Heat beat the Wiz by 22 on Jan. 3: Whiteside blocked two shots in the first period and four in the first half, and suddenly the Wizards offense became a timid imitation of the 2014 Wizards offense, featuring a disturbing amount of inefficient jumpers and a great deal of reluctance to attack the basket.

Unfortunately, it once again appears that it’s up to John Wall and whoever else shows up to shoulder the burden. Wall needs to attack the rim for this team to be successful—that’s been the case for years and it will continue to be the case until Kevin Durant comes to D.C.(1) and can take some of the offensive responsibility.

The Marcus Thornton signing, while underwhelming in itself, could end up a surprisingly good one. The Wizards have desperately needed a bench spark for years, and though Thornton isn’t exactly Jamal Crawford, J.R. Smith, Nate Robinson, or Terrence Ross, he’s a guy who can casually drop 20 points on a defense that forgets he still plays basketball. A volume scorer that will drive fans and Randy Wittman crazy at times, Thornton has 37 25-point games to his name, though he’s managed that just once in the past two years.

It won’t be pretty. In fact, there are times Washington’s second unit will play some of the ugliest basketball the District has seen since pre-2012. But who knows, a ragtag group of Ramon Sessions, Marcus Thornton, Garrett Temple, Jared Dudley, and Nene might actually be able to string together enough head-scratching buckets to offset the guaranteed offensive explosion from opposing guards to make it worthwhile.

That said, don’t be surprised if Trey Burke casually throws up a 30-spot Friday night.

Analytics This

  • Since Ted Leonsis went on his snarky “Analytics This” mini-rant on March 3, the Wizards are 0-3. On March 3, FiveThirtyEight gave the Wizards a 51 percent chance to make the postseason. Exactly a week later, before Thursday’s games, that number had plummeted to 18 percent. Meanwhile, Chicago, Detroit, and Indiana—who are all less than four games ahead of the Wizards—have seen their chances rise from 29, 64, and 78 percent to 32, 70, and 89 percent.
  • With the exception of Chicago, every team above Washington in the Eastern Conference standings has a better conference record than Leonsis’ squad, which boasts a paltry 21-20 resume against Eastern foes.
  • The Wizards also lag far behind other Eastern Conference postseason contenders in home record, at a frankly embarrassing 16-17. And that’s after the Wizards went more than a month without losing at home; they went 6-0 between losing to the Warriors on Feb. 3 and losing to Indiana by one on March 5.
  • According to ESPN, the Wizards rank 24th in home attendance percentage, at just 85.9 percent. They’re 17th in average home attendance, with 17,420, which is a slightly more encouraging number, but they still manage to fill less of their stadium than the 17-47 Phoenix Suns (92.4 percent), way less than the 24-39 New Orleans Pelicans (97.1 percent), and still less than the 25-38 Sacramento Kings (99.7 percent).
  • As ugly as this season has been, Randy Wittman is technically padding his resume. Before this season, he held down a career record of 237-365 (.394); after guiding his team to a 30-33 (.476) record so far, he’s bumped his career win percentage to .402. It is the worst winning percentage of any coach in NBA history with at least 650 games under his belt, and at 65.5 games below .500, he ranks 311th out of 321 coaches to ever lead an NBA squad.

  1. That’s still happening, right?
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Bryan Frantz
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Bryan is a D.C. native with a degree in something or other from UNC. He has important, interesting hobbies, but mostly he just weeps over D.C. sports teams. You can find him on the Metro, inevitably complaining about Red Line delays.