SALT LAKE CITY — The Washington Wizards’ JaVale McGee lost the ball and quickly sprinted back on defense in an attempt to and track down Utah Jazz forward Paul Millsap. As Millsap made his move to the basket, McGee jumped to contest the shot, raising his arms to return it to sender.
McGee’s no-look defense proved to be effective for part of the play, but Millsap quickly recovered the carom and tossed the ball to Gordon Hayward in the corner for a wide-open three-pointer that put the Jazz ahead by 18 points in the third quarter on Friday night. Even on one of the rare occasions that the Wizards attempted to play some defense in their 114-100 loss to the Jazz, they found a way to break down in the end.
“It was definitely a deflating,” McGee said. “It made our hopes come down a little bit.”
It wasn’t until the Wizards found themselves down by 28 a few minutes later that they decided to make a rally that included a few jaw-dropping plays. But it was much too late in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the score would suggest.
Through the first four games of this five-game trip, the Wizards have yet to play a truly competitive contest. They defeated Detroit and Portland by a total of 36 points before losing their past two games to the Los Angeles Clippers and the Jazz by a combined 32. The Wizards collapsed from fatigue in the fourth quarter of their loss in Los Angeles on Wednesday, but against the Jazz, they surrendered to a second-quarter barrage by Al Jefferson, who scored 14 straight points and 16 out of 20 overall to help the Jazz build a 12-point lead at the break.
“He made some great shots and I wasn’t as aggressive as I should’ve been on defense and we paid for it,” McGee said after scoring 15 points and grabbing just six rebounds in just less than 25 minutes.
Jefferson, who played for Wizards Coach Randy Wittman in Minnesota, scored in a variety of ways, hitting a couple of jump hooks over Kevin Seraphin, burying pull-up jumpers and cutting to the basket for easy dunks. He ended the half by shooting a floater in the lane that barely grazed the bottom of the backboard, but he quickly caught it and put it in off the glass as time expired.
Jefferson had 26 of his game-high 34 points by halftime and he also finished with 12 rebounds for the Jazz (15-14), which had lost five of six entering the game but shot 52.8 percent from the field had five players score in double figures.
“We didn’t have any fight against him,” Wittman said. “He caught it and did whatever he wanted to do with the ball. And we didn’t really seem to let it bother us in that first half. I coached that guy, so I know what he can do and I tried to tell JaVale, ‘You’ve got to fight.’ ”
McGee tried to responded on the offensive end, but Wittman eventually leaned heavily on Seraphin and rookie Jan Vesely in the second half to help contain Jefferson. But in focusing all of their attention on Jefferson, the Wizards opened up opportunities for the rest of the Jazz players to score, which they did, outscoring the Wizards 38-28 in the third quarter.
Utah made four of its five three-pointers in the third period, extending the lead to 92-64 when Harris made a shot from long distance and Jefferson followed with a jumper. The Jazz reached triple digits by the end of the third quarter, taking a 100-78 lead into the final period.
“When you get scrambling around, and you have to scramble to get a guy cooled down. They swung it around and made some shots,” Wittman said. “We have to do a better job of when a guy gets going, step up to the plate, get a little [angry] about what’s going on and fight the guy.”
John Wall had 24 points and Jordan Crawford had 21 for the Wizards (7-24), who dropped to 3-12 away from Verizon Center. The duo was alone on a fast break when Crawford tossed an underhand lob to Wall for a two-hand dunk. The theatrics may have been ill-timed considering it brought the Wizards within 20, but the dunk was part of a run that helped the team eventually cut a huge deficit to 104-90 with 6 minutes 52 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
“I think we didn’t start strong from the beginning. After that, we tried to get back but I think we didn’t have enough energy to win the game,” said Vesely, who matched his season-high with 10 points but wasn’t pleased afterward. “I mean, if I play good and we lost, it’s not satisfying. I’m happy if we win.”
They will need to defeat Phoenix on Monday in order to record the first winning record on a road trip of at least five games in nearly seven years. Wall wouldn’t have a problem if the trend lopsided games continues on this trip.
“Yeah, just try to make the last one a blowout for us. We 2-2, you want the last one to end up better on your terms,” Wall said.