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Utah Jazz: Wall, improved Wizards have Jazz’s full attention

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Washington Wizards' John Wall shoots in the third quarter of an NBA basketball game against the New Jersey Nets, Wednesday, March 21, 2012, in Newark, N.J. The Wizards won 108-89. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

By Steve Luhm

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Jan 22 2013 01:25PM
Updated May 5, 2013 11:33PM

The Washington Wizards did more than help Utah’s playoff chances with recent wins over Western Conference opponents Denver and Portland.

They put the Jazz on high alert.

Washington, which visits EnergySolutions Arena on Wednesday night, has won five of its last seven games.

The Wizards prevailed last week in Denver, where the Jazz have been demolished twice this season by a total of 39 points.

Washington also scored a 98-95 win Monday night at Portland, where Jordan Crawford hit an improbable 3-pointer at the buzzer to continue the Wizards’ best stretch of a previously dreary season.

"Our record isn’t reflective of who we are, how we’ve played and how we’re playing," veteran Emeka Okafor told the Washington Post. "We’re starting to turn the corner ... starting to close games with confidence."

Not coincidentally, the Wizards improved the moment point guard John Wall returned to the lineup.

Wall missed Washington’s first 33 games because of a knee injury. In the last six games, however, he is averaging 14 points and 6.7 assists.

"They are getting healthy and playing a lot better," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "... They are an explosive team. They can score points. We have to make sure we get back in transition."

The Jazz have beaten Washington six straight times, including an 83-76 victory on Nov. 17.

"Their team is different than the first time we played them," said Randy Foye. "They’re just a better team. ... They’re a team that’s hungry and playing well. Obviously, Wall helps them bring a different kind of energy."

If nothing else, the Jazz are rested for the rematch with Washington.

Utah hasn’t played since a 109-98 victory over Cleveland on Saturday night. In the game, nobody played more than 30 minutes.

Against the Cavaliers, the Jazz did a decent job defending Kyrie Irving.

A point guard with Wall-like ability to dominate a game, Irving finished with 18 points. But he missed 13 of his 20 field-goal attempts and was 1 for 7 from the floor in the first quarter, when the Jazz aggressively trapped him.

Asked if the Jazz will employ similar tactics against Wall, Corbin said, "We have to make sure he sees bodies, not gaps. And it’s not just the guy guarding him.

"We have to make sure everybody is back and when he comes down, especially in transition, that he sees bodies instead of holes to the basket."

One thing is certain. The Jazz won’t overlook the Wizards, despite their 9-30 overall record.

"You can never approach a game and think, ‘We’re going to win this game.’ Those are the games you lose," Foye said.

"You still have to come in prepared and as focused as ever. You have to prepare like you are playing OKC or the Heat."

Corbin agrees.

"We have to make sure we don’t take anybody for granted," he said. "We can’t look at somebody’s record and think we can just show up and win games. We have to play a certain way on both ends of the floor to be effective."

luhm@sltrib.com

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