The crowd at Capital One Arena had grown so quietly disinterested during the Washington Wizards’ 116-95 loss to the Utah Jazz on Monday night that a few hecklers in Section 108 could be heard taunting the home team during an embarrassing third quarter. They called out Wizards Coach Scott Brooks by name as the Jazz took a commanding lead, and soon a few Wizards players were looking toward the crowd to locate the dissenters.
“My ears are fine, so you can hear,” guard Tomas Satoransky said. “You’re trying to stay focused. You have to ignore it when you’re in the game.”
This much the Wizards can’t ignore: Their chances to make the postseason are quickly fading. Washington (30-41) hasn’t been mathematically eliminated, but this latest setback felt like a devastating and demoralizing blow. It left them 4½ games out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference with 11 games remaining.
The Wizards entered the night with a razor-slim margin for error and in need of serious help to make a late run at the postseason. But a healthy crowd still showed up to watch them face one the league’s most talented teams in the Jazz, which is on pace to claim a playoff spot in the West.
The gulf between the teams could not have been more apparent. It began on the defensive end: Washington had scored at least 121 points in five of its past eight games, but the Jazz (41-29) bottled up guard Bradley Beal, who was coming off back-to-back 40-point games but shot 4 for 12 to finish with 15 points.
“They face-guarded me the whole game. I’m not going to score 40 points every night,” Beal said. “Everybody knows that. I hope we don’t have that expectation, because I’m not Superman.”
Utah was also superior in the paint, earning a 41-34 rebounding advantage and getting stellar rim protection from center Rudy Gobert. On the other end, the Jazz used its balance to run circles around Washington's defense, finishing with 49 field goals on 35 assists. That included 14 three-pointers, with five in the third quarter alone to open a 20-point lead.
“They know where each player is on the floor, and they play in defined roles. So it’s kind of hard stopping it, preventing it, because they’ve been doing it together for so, so long,” said Wizards forward Jabari Parker, who came off the bench to score a team-high 19 points.
But it was Utah’s defense that bothered Washington most. Aside from Beal’s issues, the Wizards looked discombobulated on the offensive end and committed 16 turnovers. It was outscored 58-40 in the paint and made just 8 of 27 tries (29.6 percent) from three-point range.
“A lot of it was their defense,” Satoransky said. “We have to give credit where it’s due. They’re one of the toughest teams to play against.”
It was one of the most lackluster performances in weeks for the Wizards, who had won six of their previous 10 games and three of their previous four during this homestand. Despite Beal’s early struggles — he missed five of his six shots in the first half, including all three of his three-point attempts — Trevor Ariza made his first four shots and the Wizards pieced together enough offense to remain within 57-45 at halftime.
But just as so many of the league’s top teams have done in this building this season, Utah exposed Washington’s inconsistency on the defensive end and took control by the early stages of the third quarter. After the Wizards had pulled within 67-58 with 8:50 remaining, Utah outscored Washington 24-13 over the rest of the period to take a 91-71 lead into the fourth. While Jazz forward Joe Ingles pestered Beal with relentless defense, he also finished with 16 points and helped spark Utah’s offensive burst in the second half.
Donovan Mitchell (19 points) and Ingles made back-to-back three-pointers early in the third quarter. Then came a dunk from Gobert (14 points) and five straight points from forward Jae Crowder (18 points), and Mitchell finished an alley-oop from point guard Ricky Rubio to make it 79-60.
Beal, who earlier Monday was named the Eastern Conference player of the week, did not play in the fourth quarter. He sat with his feet in an ice tub in the locker room afterward, shaking his head when asked how much of a slog his night was.
Beal hadn’t been face-guarded like that since high school, he said. After his team suffered its most humbling loss in weeks, one that put another serious dent in its playoff hopes, Brooks defended his star.
“He’s a champion,” Brooks said. “He’ll come back and bounce back the next night and play better.”