Utah has been arguably the most impressive team in the NBA since the All-Star break and it goes for a seventh straight win on Wednesday as Washington makes its only visit of the season.
Wizards Looking to Climb in East
Washington (39-28) is still fighting for a Top-4 seed in the East and home-court advantage at least in the first round of the playoffs. The Wizards are at No. 5 currently, a half game behind No. 4 Chicago. The Wizards could still get as high as a No. 2, although most expect Cleveland to hang onto that spot. They bring a four-game winning streak into Salt Lake City. Washington closed out a three-game homestand with a 105-97 victory over Portland on Monday behind 21 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds from John Wall. Bradley Beal added 23 points and seven assists in his best game in weeks.
Brazilian big man Nene returned from missing two games and chipped in 12 points and seven rebounds. It was just the 26th time all year, due to injury, that the Wizards were able to start their preferred starting five of Wall, Beal, Paul Pierce, Nene and Marcin Gortat. That group is now 14-12. Washington is 19-1 this season when shooting at least 50 percent from the field.
The Wizards have held their last 10 opponents under 100 points. They haven't done it 11 straight since 2013. During this winning streak, Washington is averaging 105.0 points per game while shooting 51.2 percent from the field. It is holding opponents to 87.5 points per game on 39.3 percent shooting.
Washington is 27-39-1 against the NBA betting spread this season and 30-35-2 'over/under.'
Jazz Are Clamping Down
If the Jazz (30-36) were in the Eastern Conference, they would be a team no one wanted to face in the first round of the playoffs. But being in the West, the playoffs will have to wait until next year. The team was supposed to get worse after trading big man Enes Kanter at the deadline to Oklahoma City for nothing of current value, but Utah is 10-2 in the break and its six-game winning streak is the longest current in the NBA and the franchise's longest since 2012.
The NBA's best defense since the break dominated visiting Charlotte 94-66 on Monday. Utah held the Hornets to just 29.5 percent shooting from the field and the Jazz outrebounded them 61-36. Rudy Gobert continues his emergence as a future All-Star. He had nine points and 22 rebounds, his third straight game with at least 19. He's averaging 10.4 points, 15.1 rebounds and 2.8 blocks since the break. Also since the break, the Jazz's defensive efficiency rating is an absurdly good 89.7 points per 100 possessions. Just for a point of comparison, the NBA season leader is Golden State at 97.7.
Offensively, the Jazz couldn't miss against Charlotte, making 11 consecutive 3-pointers in one stretch, tying the longest run in the NBA since the 2002-03 season. Utah set a team record with eight first quarter 3-pointers, and its 11 threes in the first half set another Jazz record. Rookie Rodney Hood was 5-for-5 from long range and had career-high 24 points, his fourth straight game with at least 12.
It's fun to see a team finally "get it" and this club will be really interesting to watch next year after adding another high draft pick. Utah is 36-28-2 against the spread and 24-42 'over/under' on NBA betting odds.
On Dec. 14 in D.C. the Wizards were 11-point favorites on NBA odds but failed to cover in a 93-84 victory. Utah led by five at the half but was outscored 30-16 in the third quarter. Utah committed 10 turnovers after the break, while Washington had just three. Wall filled up the box score for the Wizards with 16 points, eight assist, six rebounds, five steals and three blocks. Alec Burks led Utah with 19 points; he's now out for the season. Starting forward Derrick Favors missed the game with an injury so Gobert made his first NBA start and had seven points, nine rebounds and three blocks in 31 minutes. The Jazz have won three straight in this series in Salt Lake City.
NBA Free Picks: It's a tiny total, but still go 'under' for this NBA pick. Lean Utah on the side. The Jazz have covered seven straight against teams with a winning record. The 'under' has hit in six of Washington's past eight on the road. The 'under' is 13-3 in Utah's past 16 vs. the East.