The big news of today is that the Jazz claimed Malcolm Thomas, a recently waived forward from the San Antonio Spurs. I know, the title is now ours for the taking. But we still have a few more games to play before the playoffs start. The first is tonight against the 21-21 Washington Wizards. The Wizards are the #5 team in the Eastern Conference right now and hold a commendable 11-10 road record. They are on a 2 game win streak, and are 6-4 in their last 10 games. They played last night and beat the Phoenix Suns to open up a four game West road trip. They'll also face the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers. Clearly, we're the 'trap game' on this trip. The Wizards are an interesting collection of talent, from high draft picks like John Wall and Bradley Beal to career rotation or better guys like Trevor Ariza, Marcin Gortat, and Nene Hilario.
They'll be without Al Harrington tonight, and also missing Glen Rice Jr. -- who is a really nice guy. Martell Webster is a game time decision for them, and without him their wing rotation is a little light.
For the season Randy Whittman has them playing defense. They are #10 in DEF Rtg (104.7) while teams only score 99.4 ppg (#11) against them. Their pace is middle of the pack (17th) and their offense is clearly a work in progress. They have a negative average margin of victory, but still .500 for the season.
On defense it comes down to causing turnovers (Wall and Ariza help here), and getting all of the defensive boards (Gortat, Nene and company). They keep it simple on defense, and try not to foul. On offense they aren't doing much beyond making the threes they take (#5 in the NBA, at .380). If you don't watch the Wizards (and I don't blame you if you don't), it's because their offense is not that dynamic.
We're not that dynamic on offense either. We're actually much worse. We're now worked all the way up to #27 in offensive ppg, and #23 in Off Rtg. (Wash is #21). Our defense is still holding us back. Big time. That said we're 5-5 in our last 10 games. So, obviously, we're a better team than our 14-29 record shows.
Tonight's big matchup is going to be between John Wall and Trey Burke. Sure, it's more captivating to look at how Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors will match up against Gortat and Nene . . . but it's a point guard's league now. Wall is having a 20.1 / 8.6 / 4.3 / 1.9 season, which is AMAZING, but few people are even talking about it. Burke's numbers are much less, but well, he's playing way fewer minutes.
This game will be a good education for him.
If the Jazz are able to get offensive rebounds, and good looks while taking care of the ball their "I think I can, I think I can" offense may be able to keep up with the Wizards. Defensively the Jazz have to be able to close out on shooters. Wall penetrates all day and defenses collapse on him. Closing out is going to make or break this game.
Oh, and try to win the battle of the paint, Tyrone Corbin. Small ball is nice, but there's a reason no team has actually WON a title with it.