The defensive posture that the Wizards have sorely lacked all season, at least for this first game following the All-Star break, is back. To jump into the playoff picture and have any chance to advance, they have to be the team they were Thursday night.
The Jazz (26-27) had won seven of their last eight games but were tripped up because of their inferior guard play as John Wall, Garrett Temple and Otto Porter harassed them into 23 turnovers.
"I was really proud of our guys today. We stressed coming out in doing some things defensively that was important for us to really try to speed their pace up," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "It all stemmed from what we were doing defensively. Our guys came out and executed that plan as good as I could ask."
John Wall had his 31st double-double of the season with 17 points and 11 assists. He added six rebounds and had just two turnovers. The Wizards (24-28) led by as many as 19 points, held the Jazz to 42 points in the first half. They're 12-5 when holding teams to 50 or fewer in the first two quarters.
Raul Neto and Trey Burke were no match as the ball-handlers for Utah. And they couldn't stop Wall or Bradley Beal from getting to wherever they wanted to on the floor.
"Ball pressure was huge," Wittman said. "If you let a team come down that's good, just moving the ball A, B, C to D you're going to be in for a long night. We did a good job eliminating that."
The Jazz had a 48-36 edge against the NBA's worst rebounding team, but the defense bailed out Washington. Otto Porter recovered to block Gordon Hayward's jump shot. He stripped Hayward from behind to force a scramble for the loose ball which led to Garrett Temple taking a charge from Derrick Favors.
"We did a great job of setting our pressure defensively," Beal said. "We were getting beat on the boards but our defense helped us out a lot."
Marcin Gortat (22 points, 10 rebounds) was engaged and contesting shots from Favors early to force misses. He came over to close down a drive by Hayward at the basket for a block then ran to the other end for dunk. Nene (16 points) was physical with Favors and Rudy Gobert in the paint.
Just as important, Nene's team defense was on point, too. Realizing that Hayward was cutting to the basket and had a step on Temple, Nene took a step back from Gobert, who has no offensive game away from the basket. He was standing at the foul line, and Nene's proper read took away the passing angle for an entry pass. It was basic basketball of knowing the personnel and what to give vs. what to deny.
"We took away what they wanted," said Jared Dudley, who came off the bench while Nene started to match up with Utah's size in the post. "I thought Nene was great setting the tone out there. ... Everything was clicking."
Dudley even had a blocked shot as the Wizards had 10, half coming from Gortat.
"We know they wanted to run with flow," Wall said, referring to Utah's preference to go away from a set offense. "Just moving the ball side to side and being able to get open. We knew that was key for them. We just did a great job of taking them out their rhythm and they started running plays that they probably haven't run all season."