January 25, 2022

Wizards defense no match for Jefferson, Jazz

Leading early, competitive for a half, dominated after intermission. This losing wash, rinse and repeat cycle returned to the Washington Wizards rotation with a vengeance. Overpowered by the Utah Jazz in the third quarter and Al Jefferson throughout, the Wizards dropped their second straight game, falling 114-100 in Salt Lake City on Friday night.

Playing the fourth game of a five-game road swing, the Wizards defense ranged from ineffective to absentee through three quarters, allowing the Jazz to shoot over 50 percent in each. Jefferson scored 26 of his 34 points in the first half and from all angles, shooting the Jazz to a 62-50 halftime lead.

That was the good half.

Perhaps tired legs are to blame, but the Wizards (7-24) defense remained incapable of slowing the Jazz attack while the offense went from productive to disjointed early in the third quarter. After opening the second half with 10-4 run, the Jazz (15-14) officially ended any drama by expanding the lead to 92-64 on a Jefferson jumper with 4:49 remaining in the third quarter.

Washington allowed the Utah to score a whopping 70 points in the paint and shoot 52.8 percent from the field. Jefferson added 12 rebounds while pacing five double figure scorers as the Jazz snapped a two-game losing streak.

John Wall scored 24 points and Jordan Crawford tallied 21 points for the Wizards, who also had five players reach double figures.

Before turning he focus toward the Wizards road swing finale against the Phoenix Suns on Monday, more on their 15th loss this season by 10 or more points this season…

Positives: Mixing in perimeter shots with assertive drives, Wall sank 8-of-12 field goals. He also made all eight of his free throw attempts and the Wizards finished 22-of-26 from the foul line…Jumping Jan Vesely’s instincts and athleticism continue to shine through, especially on the boards. Vesely (10 points) snatched the Wizards first three offensive rebounds and showed legitimate craftiness on multiple putbacks. He also tossed a clever pass on the move to Seraphin for a dunk.

Negatives: The Red Sea defense was on display early on, frequently parting the lane as the Jazz scored their first 14 points in the paint…Nick Young (10 points)  missed two shots and committed a turnover in the opening minutes of the third quarter when the offensive flow disntegrated…starting forwards Trevor Booker and Chris Singleton proved no match for Jefferson and Paul Millsap (14 points, 12 rebounds) on either end, finishing with a combined nine points and seven rebounds in 43 minutes.

There are bigs, and then there are bigs: Both teams sport youthful frontcourt, but the difference in terms of power and shot making ability – and likely upside – is significant.

Only Kevin Seraphin could physically matchup up with the 6-10, 289 pound Jefferson, but we are talking physique, not skill. Jefferson scored on the low block, from the high post, on 18-foot jump shots and while crashing the glass, making 15 of his first 19 shots. Unstoppable.

Paul Millsap scored eight of his 14 points in the decisive third quarter and six of his 12 rebounds came on the offensive glass. Rookie Enes Kanter repeatedly muscled his way to the free throw line in the first half and combined with athletic power forward Derrick Favors for 17 points off the bench.

Granted Andray Blatche remains sidelined, Vesely’s potential is evident and JaVale McGee (15 points, six rebounds, three blocks) offers extreme agility. However, the Jazz’ four interior options either immediately become the Wizards top scoring threat or provide a true power building block. There is no rumored deal, just observing.

Mack v. Hayward: The former Butler Bulldogs met for the first time in the NBA. The Wizards rookie missed five of six shots and scored three points. Hayward, who narrowly missed the game-winning shot from half court in the 2010 National Title game against Duke, finished with five points.

Vesely v. Kanter: This matchup provided an opportunity to revisit the 2011 NBA Draft. Back in June of last yeare, many hoped the Turkish center would be available for the Wizards with the sixth overall pick, but the Jazz snatched up Kanter with the third overall pick.

Both players displayed their unique gifts on Friday – Kanter strength compared to Vesely’s athleticism – and look to be legitimate prospects with the Turkish big man currently outpacing his Czech counterpart. With both playing around 15 minutes per game, Kanter is averaging 5.1 points and a robust 5.2 rebounds compared to 2. 8 points and 3.1 rebounds for Vesely.

Sigh: Down 20 points, Crawford threw an underhanded lob to Wall for a fast break dunk. Guess the memory of the brouhaha following JaVale McGee backboard pass has faded.

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