SALT LAKE CITY — Four Washington Wizards players sprinted helplessly down the floor Monday night. The Wizards were getting bombarded in the first half and had to contest yet another easy look for the Utah Jazz. Continuing their trend, they moved with the grace of a jetlagged traveler.
Wizards center Marcin Gortat had been stopped at the rim by Jazz center Rudy Gobert, and when Utah's Joe Ingles controlled the blocked shot, the fast break ignited. Four Wizards recognized the play developing but could only run and point downcourt for someone else to pick up the open man. Pointing doesn't equate to playing defense, of course, and only one Wizard, Jodie Meeks, stood in the paint to try to stop a player who was six inches taller and 21 pounds heavier.
During its 116-69 loss to the Jazz, Washington often left the dirty work for another teammate, believing someone else would rotate, or close out on the shooter, or get back to stop the break. But no one played defense, as the final 47-point margin revealed, and the Wizards suffered their second-worst loss in franchise history ahead of only a 52-point loss in 1971 when the team was still based in Baltimore.
"It's embarrassing," shooting guard Bradley Beal said. "That's probably the best way to put it. There's no point in really getting down about it because, yeah, we got our [tail] kicked today. There's really no words to say it."
Still, Coach Scott Brooks searched for the right things to say following the loss. Asked how he would describe the dismantling, Brooks released an exasperated sound then paused for four seconds as words failed him.
"They punched us and punched us again and punched us again," Brooks finally said. "Surprisingly, we didn't fight back. One of the first times since I've been here we didn't play with fight."
Though the Wizards had held opponents to 98.1 points per game over the previous 12 games, the team defense shifted to the opposite parallel against the Jazz (13-11). Utah led 64-30 at halftime, and the Jazz shot 56.6 percent for the game.
Utah wings Alex Burks and Donovan Mitchell combined to shoot 17 for 26, including 6-for-11 marksmanship from beyond the three-point arc. Burks (9 for 13, 3 for 5) scored a game-high 27 points while the rookie Mitchell (8 for 13, 3 for 6), who hit his first four shots, finished with 21. Though four Wizards reached double figures, the team shot 28.8 percent from the field overall.
"Too many mistakes, and they just outplayed us in every aspect," backup point guard Tomas Satoransky said.
Washington (12-11) had enjoyed two rest days after its win over the Detroit Pistons on Friday. Even so, the team looked strangely lethargic. At the 3:33 mark of the first quarter, Markieff Morris attempted a one-footed jumper from the baseline early in the shot clock. Though Morris made it and the Wizards trailed just 19-15, shots like this one choked the offense for the rest of the half.
After Morris's make, the Wizards succumbed to a 33-6 run. During this putrid stretch, Washington littered the Vivint Smart Home Arena floor with one-shot possessions or settled too often for pull-up midrange looks. The Wizards made only 6 of 21 shots from outside the paint in the first half.
"We were trying to catch up by ourselves, and you can't do that," Brooks said. "I don't care who you're playing, you need four other guys to help you score. It was a little bit — I don't know of the word 'selfish.' They were trying to win the possession by themselves, and you can't. You need a passer, you need a screener, you need ball movers, you need cutters and you need all four guys to participate."
This offensive sluggishness carried over to the opposite end, where Washington played a step behind Utah and its ball movement. The Jazz, winners of six straight, found good looks but searched for better ones, and their unselfishness often led to open shots.
Early in the second quarter, the ball found an open Thabo Sefolosha for the team's fourth three-pointer. Utah's fifth triple quickly followed as Raul Neto, abandoned in the left corner, cashed in another deep shot and the lead expanded to 20.
And later during the transition play when four Wizards mimicked the act of defense, leaving Meeks no choice but to foul forward Jonas Jerebko, they might have stopped the run but soon fell back into bad habits. On the reset, Jerebko clobbered Washington with the seventh three-pointer of the half and opened a 31-point lead.
"I think the first half, we just were taking some bad shots, tough shots," Satoransky said. "They really got open shots and it felt like we were everywhere late and they just felt comfortable in the whole game. Everyone who came in for them had an impact."
The loss continues a season-long trend of wild variations. The Wizards have now lost three of their five games since John Wall started rehabilitating his knee injury and are 7-6 in games against teams that are currently above the .500 mark.