Jazz want more on defense when Wizards come to town

National Sports

The potent Utah Jazz offense, which averages an NBA-high 116.0 points, didn’t disappoint against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night.

But the defense? Another “D” word would be even more fitting than disappointment for the Jazz, who host the Washington Wizards in a quick turnaround Saturday night in Salt Lake City.

The Jazz defense, one of the NBA’s five stingiest, simply disappeared in the second half.

Despite leading by as many as 17 and holding a 15-point lead with 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter, Utah squandered a chance to extend its winning streak to nine by getting outscored 41-23 in the third quarter and 5-2 in the final minute of a 128-126 loss.

“We didn’t play defense,” said Jazz center Rudy Gobert of the third-quarter breakdown.

Utah had only allowed 106 points per game during its win streak. Before Friday, the Jazz were giving up only 104.1 points on average, which is the fourth-least in the NBA. That’s why Friday’s subpar performance didn’t sit well with the three-time Defensive Player of the Year.

“This was a nice pickup game. We scored a lot of points,” Gobert said. “Sometimes it’s good to get humbled a bit. … They got whatever they wanted. They could have got 20, 30 (corner 3s). … They scored a ton in the paint. That’s on me. A lot of these guys rely on me and I’ve got to be better.”

Though they just came off a season-best stretch, including a 123-98 win last Saturday in Washington, the Jazz have shown a tendency to blow some opportunities at home against teams they should beat. They’ve lost three games at Vivint Arena by a combined four points to teams they were favored to beat in the past month.

“This is something we need to continue to focus on and fight — these lapses on defense,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “To me, it’s all about our defense. … It’s about having resolve on that end.”

The Jazz defense did its job against the Wizards in their last meeting. That setback was the first of four consecutive losses for Washington, which is midway through a six-game road trip. They lost the first three away games in Denver, Sacramento and Phoenix leading up to Saturday’s game.

“We are in a rut right now,” Wizards forward Montrezl Harrell said. “Nobody is going to feel bad for us, brother. We’ve got to figure it out.”

The Wizards will have former University of Utah player Kyle Kuzma on the court in this one after he sat out last Saturday after entering the NBA’s health and safety protocols. But the forward has only scored a total of 10 points in the two games he’s played since returning this week.

Kuzma scored four in Thursday’s 118-98 loss to the Suns on night when Bradley Beal (26 points) didn’t get enough help from teammates.

“We competed. We didn’t always do things right,” Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “Overall, we started the right way. I think it was one of those things, can you sustain it?”

The answer was “no” the last time they played Utah. Washington led 51-50 at halftime but was outscored 73-47 in the second half.

–Field Level Media

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