Kyle Kuzma returns to familiar territory when Wizards visit Jazz

On Wednesday night, the University of Utah men’s basketball team took advantage of a Utah Jazz rest day and played No. 20 TCU on the NBA court just down the street from campus.

A couple of players near and dear to the hearts of the Runnin’ Utes program will be in the same arena Thursday night when the Washington Wizards visit the Jazz in Salt Lake City.

Former Utah standout Kyle Kuzma, having arguably his best NBA season yet, continues to lead the Wizards. Kuzma was an instrumental part of Washington’s 121-112 win over the Jazz in D.C. last month, totaling 23 points with eight rebounds and six assists.

In his latest outing Tuesday night, the 2017 All-Pac-12 first-teamer scored 29 points with six rebounds and six assists to lift Washington to a 113-110 win at Phoenix. The win snapped a 10-game losing streak for the Wizards, who were in the midst of winning six of seven games when they faced Utah on Nov. 12.

“That’s a huge step for us,” Washington coach Wes Unseld Jr. said of his team ending that cold skid. “It’s something that we can continue to build on. You give yourself a chance. We minimized some of the mistakes that jumped us and bit us the last few games.”

Kuzma was one of the bright spots during the Wizards’ slump, averaging 23.1 points and 7.0 rebounds.

“These guys have continued to play hard and (the streak) didn’t affect their competitive spirit. Sometimes you make your own luck,” Unseld said. “Some of those hustle plays, 50-50 balls, the charge that Taj (Gibson) took, those are the plays that get you out of those ruts. I’m happy for those guys, I know they’re relieved and excited at the same time.”

It’s uncertain whether Kuzma will have former Ute point guard Delon Wright on the court with him Thursday. Unseld told reporters in Phoenix that he was optimistic Wright might play at Utah after missing almost two months with a hamstring injury.

The status of Kristaps Porzingis is also up in the air. Porzingis, who torched Utah for 31 points in Washington last month, didn’t play against the Suns on Tuesday due to a non-COVID illness, leading Unseld to say, “I don’t think it’s anything that’s substantial. Hopefully it’s just 24-, 48-hour variety.”

The Jazz are returning from a 1-2 road trip back East. The swing began with lopsided losses in Milwaukee and Cleveland, where they lost by an average of 24.5 points, before ending on a positive note with a 126-111 win at Detroit.

Lauri Markkanen is coming off of a career-high-tying 38-point showing against the Pistons. He scored 17 versus the Wizards in the previous meeting.

“Obviously, Lauri had an amazing game for us,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said. “He really pushed us into the lead.”

Thursday’s game will be one of just three home contests spanning into the new year for Utah, who play six of the next nine on the road. Washington wraps up its six-game Western swing Friday night in Sacramento. Neither team plays on Christmas Eve nor Christmas Day.

–Field Level Media