Jazz rout reeling Wizards
Washington » However many easy nights they have remaining this season, the Jazz were able to enjoy one of the last Saturday against Alonzo Gee, James Singleton, Shaun Livingston and what's left of the makeshift Washington Wizards.
The Jazz sent the Wizards to their franchise-record 15th consecutive loss, winning 103-87 at Verizon Center to bounce back following Friday's loss at Indiana and head home 2-1 from their final Eastern Conference trip of the season.
"Everybody thinks these games are real easy," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "These are tough games. They're playing a lot of different guys, trying to find out what they've got and you never know what you've got to deal with. To get away with a win was important to us."
It was the Jazz's 48th victory of the season, equaling their total from the 2008-09 season. The Jazz can clinch a playoff berth today, should Memphis lose at Milwaukee, or Monday by beating New York back at EnergySolutions Arena.
If nothing else, punching their postseason ticket will offer a reminder of how far the Jazz have come in winning 29 of their last 38 games. They were 19-17 following a Jan. 8 loss in Memphis and sat 10th in the Western Conference as recently as Jan. 10.
"We expected to be at the top of the West," Deron Williams said. "We didn't expect to be 10th. It caught us off guard, so now we're playing better basketball, we have a different confidence. We're just a different team than we were three months ago."
The Jazz pulled even with Dallas pending the Mavericks' late game Saturday at Golden State. They now trail No. 2 Denver by a half-game, with the Nuggets playing at Orlando and Dallas today and Monday.
Mehmet Okur (22 points 11 rebounds), Carlos Boozer (22 points, 10 rebounds) and Williams (20 points, 12 assists) all enjoyed big nights as the Jazz shot 59.1 percent and won every quarter against the Wizards, who haven't won since beating New Jersey on Feb. 28.
With the Gilbert Arenas fallout still consuming every day, the Wizards started Gee, Singleton and Livingston on Saturday.
Gee is a D-League call-up, Singleton was acquired from Dallas in the Caron Butler/Brendan Haywood trade and Livingston is recovering from a devastating knee injury in 2007.
The Wizards scored on their first five possessions of the game and trailed 50-43 at halftime as Nick Young scored 13 points off the bench in the second quarter and hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer. The Jazz, though, remained in control throughout.
Okur has struggled before in the second game of back-to-back sets and went into Saturday averaging 12.7 points and 7.8 rebounds while shooting 39.2 percent (22.9 percent on three-pointers) in just such games this season.
After scoring 27 points in Friday's loss to the Pacers, Okur kept rolling against the Wizards. He hit a bank shot on the move as well as a three-pointer to close the first quarter, then opened the second quarter with a hook shot.
Okur passed on a three-pointer later in the second quarter and blew past Andray Blatche (20 points, 8-for-22 shooting) for a layup. He connected on another three-pointer with 6:10 remaining and had 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting by halftime.
"At the beginning of the season, really my shot didn't fall for me," Okur said. "I was more stepping back and stuff like that.
"But now I learned my lesson and I want to start the ballgames with layups, dunks, whatever, free throws. It's really working out for me and now I'm playing with a lot of confidence out there."
The Wizards closed within five points three times in the third quarter.
Okur came through with two timely baskets, spinning on Singleton and scoring as part of a three-point play and hitting a runner with 5:21 left and the shot clock about to expire.
The Jazz used an 8-1 run to take an 80-65 lead into the fourth quarter. Boozer spent all second quarter on the bench in foul trouble but scored 18 points in the second half, including a ferocious left-handed dunk on JaVale McGee with 57.5 seconds left in the third.
"We can't go back and play last night," Boozer said of the loss to Indiana in which the Jazz gave up a season-high 122 points. "We had to play tonight and I thought we did a great job of coming back tonight with a great defensive effort."
In short » The Jazz regroup following Friday's loss to Indiana, giving up 35 fewer points one night later to the Wizards.
Key moment » Carlos Boozer dunks on JaVale McGee and Wesley Matthews pushes ahead for a three-point play as the Jazz take an 80-65 lead.
Key stat » The Jazz win all four quarters Saturday.