By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
SALT LAKE CITY, March 31 -- The Utah Jazz needed someone to beat up on after a sloppy road loss to the dreadful Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday night and found an ideal candidate in the Washington Wizards, who closed a season-long five-game trip by absorbing their worst loss of the season, 129-87, at Energy Solutions Arena on Monday night.
The Wizards (38-36) played without starters Antonio Daniels (left wrist) and Caron Butler (strained left hamstring) and had no answers for a hot-shooting Jazz team that connected on a franchise-record 15 three-point attempts and shot 59.5 percent.
The Jazz (49-26) led by 47 and flirted with handing Washington its worst loss in franchise history (151-99 at Milwaukee in 1971) until Coach Jerry Sloan mercifully emptied his bench in the fourth quarter.
"It's not fun to lose, but it's always fun watching a Jerry Sloan team execute," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "I've always said after we play them that we can learn from what they do and how they play. As far as the game, we just didn't have it. When we tried to take away the paint, they made shots; they got the juice going."
Like the Wizards, the Jazz played without two starters (Andrei Kirilenko and Ronnie Brewer), but that mattered little as C.J. Miles (29 points on 12-of-17 shooting) and Carlos Boozer (19 points) more than picked up the slack.
Point guard Deron Williams was the best player on the court and had 16 assists along with 12 points and didn't play again after helping the Jazz to a 105-66 lead after three quarters. The Jazz finished with a season-high 40 assists and held a 40-23 edge in rebounds.
Antawn Jamison led the Wizards with 22 points, and rookie Nick Young added 18, but the Wizards couldn't get on the long flight back to Washington fast enough.
The loss, combined with Toronto's win over Charlotte on Monday, dropped the Wizards into a tie with the Raptors for fifth place in the Eastern Conference. Were the season to end Tuesday, the Wizards would hold a tiebreaker because they won the season series, 3-1. Each team has eight games remaining.
Meantime, Philadelphia (37-37) is a game behind the Wizards and Raptors.
Washington's best chance at ensuring a winning road trip came and went with Sunday's 126-120 overtime loss to the Lakers. The trip opened with a 20-point loss at Portland last Tuesday night and included consecutive wins over Seattle and Sacramento.
"I wouldn't say we were tired; I would say they are good and you have to give credit to them," said guard DeShawn Stevenson, who played the first 3 1/2 seasons of his career with the Jazz. "They attacked us early, kept attacking, they had great ball movement and they just continued to play well. They're running the same offense they ran when I was here and if you don't come out focused, they'll keep screening and get open shots and that's what happened."
The Jazz led 33-24 early in the second period when Jordan went with a lineup that included rookies Young, Dominic McGuire and Oleksiy Pecherov.
All three have produced some promising moments this season, especially Young, who scored a season-high 27 points in Sunday's overtime loss to the Lakers, but the experienced Jazz quickly took advantage of their presence Monday night.
Jazz forward Matt Harpring reeled off eight points while he was defended by McGuire; Pecherov missed three shots, including a pair of open three-point attempts; and Young had a turnover as the Jazz pushed its lead to 46-24 on a three-pointer by Mehmet Okur with 7 minutes 35 seconds to play.
The Jazz closed the half in dominating fashion by making three-pointers on five of the last six possessions and carried a 73-41 lead into the break. The 73 points were easily the most allowed by the Wizards in a first half this season, and the 32-point halftime deficit was also Washington's largest this season.
"You combine the emotional game we had yesterday, and the travel, you put everything together and that's the NBA," Jordan said. "It sort of beats you up and you have to be really, really, really good to overcome that type of thing and overcome a team like this."