Washington, D.C. • With the first half coming to a close Wednesday night, John Wall let Trey Burke drive by him, only to reach back around and poke the ball loose. Then Wall was off. The winner of this year’s Slam Dunk Contest raced down the court, finishing the fast break with a two-handed reverse slam.
The Utah Jazz, meanwhile, find themselves streaking the wrong way these days.
» Washington center Marcin Gortat passes the 3,000 career rebounds mark, grabbing nine against the Jazz on Wednesday.
» The Jazz and Wizards split their season series. Utah won at home 104-101 on Jan. 25.
» Alec Burks gets to the free throw line 10 times, but only hits half of them.
The team left home last week riding a three-game winning streak, but after Wednesday’s 104-91 loss to Wall and the Wizards, the Jazz have quickly seen that streak turn into a four-game slide.
With the exception of a hard-fought, 3-point loss last weekend in Indiana, the Jazz have looked like a team digressing, out of sorts and stumbling toward a finish line.
"We understand it’s the last stretch of the season," said Jazz point guard Trey Burke, who scored four points and dished three assists. "Bodies are getting a little tired. That means we have to be even more mentally tough and willing to go out there to match their intensity and we didn’t do that tonight."
In the last seven days, the Jazz have lost by 20 to the Cleveland Cavaliers, by 26 to the last-place Milwaukee Bucks and by 13 to the Wizards.
"It’s definitely on me to get us to play our best," said Gordon Hayward, who scored 12 points in defeat. "For whatever reason, we haven’t had it these past couple of nights, which is disappointing to say the least."
Hayward and fellow co-captain Derrick Favors were each whistled for two early fouls Wednesday, but that was just the start of the Jazz’s troubles.
Utah trailed 28-23 at the end of the first quarter as Trevor Ariza scored 12 of what would be his game-high 26 points. The small forward’s scoring outburst came just two nights after the Jazz watched Milwaukee’s Ersan Ilyasova score 31.
Before the game, Wizards coach Randy Wittman worried aloud about handling Utah’s big men, especially with 6-foot-11 forward Nene sidelined by injury. But on the court, it was Wizards center Marcin Gortat inflicting the damage, as he scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds, helping Washington outscore the Jazz in the paint 56-36.
Gortat’s big body was also integral in the Wizards’ pick-and-roll game with Wall.
"We didn’t do a good job of keeping [Wall] one way once the screen came up," Jazz coach Ty Corbin said. " … He’s a good player and Gortat does a good job for him. He’s able to get down the lane too much because we let him adjust."
Wall finished with 14 points and 10 assists. His backcourt mate Bradley Beal, meanwhile, hit on nine of his 19 attempts for 22 points.
Utah got solid contributions off its bench. Backup guard Alec Burks scored a team-high 19 points, while Enes Kanter, Jeremy Evans and Diante Garrett combined for 26.
But turnovers proved costly. The Jazz coughed up the ball 13 times, leading to 23 points for the Wizards. Utah had a chance to cut the lead to five with a 3-pointer before the first half, but Wall’s steal and dunk pushed the advantage to double figures again.
In the fourth quarter, Utah cut the lead to five on an Evans put-back dunk. The Jazz would get the deficit to five twice more, but never got any closer.
"We just couldn’t get over the hump," Corbin said.
The win was the seventh for the Wizards in their last eight tries and it put them a full game up on the Brooklyn Nets for the fifth seed in the East.
As the season draws to a close, the Jazz will be without that playoff motivation, though Burke said that won’t be an excuse for poor play.
"You want to respect the game," he said. "You don’t want to just show up just because we’ve got 21 games left. I don’t think that’s no one’s mindset on this team. We all have been playing basketball our whole lives and we’re all competitive. Every night we all leave it out there on the court. It may not seem that way, but we got to find a way to come together as a team and just push through to get some more wins."
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