The Washington Wizards beat the Utah Jazz 121-112 on Saturday night at Capital One Arena. Here are five takeaways from what went down…
Wizards stars deliver
When Bradley Beal is off the court, Washington needs their two other superstars to deliver. Kyle Kuzma did it on Thursday night (without Kristaps Porzingis). On Saturday, Kuzma and Porzingis combined to lead the way and combined for 54 of the team’s 121 points.
Kuzma (23 points, eight rebounds, six assists) was in triple-double territory, riding off the momentum from his big game two days prior. He continued to be one of the key points in the offense but found most of his success off the ball and in transition against one of the highest-tempo teams in the league in the Jazz.
Porzingis (31 points) returned to being the focal point on offense and kept Utah’s defense busy all night long. The Jazz traded switching off the unicorn with Kelly Olynyk, Lauri Markkanen and several of the other long-bodied wings when he rotated out the perimeter.
All Porzingis must have needed was a day off because there were no ill effects from his left groin strain that caused him to miss the win over his former team.
There were several key moments for Porzingis in this game as he was the one directing traffic in the high post. If Morris wasn’t running the offense, it was fed in to the forward where he could read the defense and either take his matchup or kick out to a shooter.
The highlight, though, that will be remembered for the fans was his one-handed put-back slam in the fourth quarter to wake up the crowd.
That’s now three wins in a row with one of their toughest stretches on the schedule yet.
Enter Spiderman meme
Last year it was the Wizards with the unexpected 10-3 start to the season. This time around it is the Utah Jazz, who appeared to be tanking this offseason after trading away their two franchise pillars. Unquestionably, the Jazz is the biggest surprise when glancing at the league standings, much like Washington was last year. Utah’s 10-3 record prior to this game was good enough to sit on top of the Western Conference heading into Saturday’s contest.
As those in the District know too well, a 10-3 record means little if it can’t be sustained. It’s hard to see the roster under first-year head coach Will Hardy keep pace with the other talent-laden teams in the West. But right now, they’re playing good basketball when several teams in the West are not.
The Jazz are simply playing unselfish basketball, trading turns at who can be the star player each night.
By season’s end, this game might not look like the upset as it is on Nov. 12. However, the Wizards did what neither the Grizzlies, Lakers or Clippers have accomplished this year by beating the Jazz.
Finally, shots started falling
Perhaps, the Wizards are finally finding their grove from behind the arc. The signs were there in their victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday. Twelve made 3-pointers tied their season-high and Kuzma (5 threes) was at the forefront of that.
The stroke the team found that night carried over into the holiday weekend. This time against the Jazz, it was more by committee than one player getting hot as they set a new season-high going 16-for-36 (44.4%) from behind the arc. In the first half, Washington nearly matched their season average with eight made 3-pointers. It was highlighted by a short stretch where Jordan Goodwin hit three in three minutes.
Corey Kispert went 4-for-4 from deep as well. Porzingis added four, Will Barton (1), Kuzma (1), Monte Morris (1) and Deni Avdija (1) got the long ball to go down as well.
It’s notable that this performance came against Utah. The Jazz entered this contest second in the NBA in defending the three, holding opponents to 9.8 makes per game and only 32.3%. This could have been a matchup where the Wizards abandoned that portion of their game plan and Wes Unseld Jr.’s pursuit of getting more attempts. After all, Washington’s struggles there are well-documented and it’s reflected by being last in the league with 9.2 three per game and second-to-last with a 31.4% shooting percentage.
Instead, Washington delivered their best performance of the season. No matter how this Jazz team looks come February and March, this win should be a confidence builder in that area of their game.
Mark it down as two straight games where their deep shooting proved to be a difference.
DC’s best-kept secret
Jordan Goodwin isn’t going to be ignored in scouting reports for much longer. On Saturday, it appeared as if he was the Jazz’s last priority in coverage. The second-year guard made them pay.
Goodwin jumped right into the game late in the opening quarter with full confidence. In a two-minute span, he scored nine points with three 3-pointers. One came as he brought the ball up the court and simply no one picked up the ballhandler. Goodwin recognized the lapse from the Jazz defense and rushed to his spot on the left wing to drill a three. It took him all of eight seconds to bring the ball up and hit the shot.
There was also a nice crossover on Kelly Olynyk in the high post where Goodwin came up short on the shot. It would have been another nice highlight to put on his short career highlight reel. Even with the miss, it was indicative of his tenure in Washington this first month of the season. He didn’t back down and took advantage of what was given to him.
Goodwin finished the game with nine points (3-for-8 FG) with two rebounds, two assists and a steal off the bench.
Porzingis (left groin strain) was back in the lineup on Saturday. There appeared to be no limitations for the unicorn nor had a minutes restriction. And despite Kuzma being a last-minute addition to the injury report with a non-COVID illness, he still played to ensure the Wizards had two-thirds of their stars on the court. That’s the good news.
Beal will likely need another game before he comes back after exiting the NBA’s Health and Safety protocols on Friday. Head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said that he expects Beal to miss Sunday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies to ramp up his conditioning. It will be the second game he missed for conditioning. Taj Gibson also missed his second-straight game.
The Wizards are 3-1 without Beal in this stretch of games. Thanks to Kuzma’s season-high against Dallas and Porzingis on Saturday, they’ve managed without him.