The Washington Wizards beat the Utah Jazz 125-121 on Monday night. Here are five takeaways from what went down...
Three of four
In this tumultuous season for the Wizards, injuries have been a big part of the story, even if they aren't solely to blame for their disappointing results. But on Monday, in a welcomed change, they essentially had everybody with the exception of Thomas Bryant, who was lost for the season back in January.
Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans were each back after missing the Wizards' last game, and they joined Daniel Gafford who returned on Saturday. Together, it was enough to take out the NBA-best Utah Jazz, who had previously won 24 straight games at home. The Wizards gave them their first home loss since New Year's Eve.
Washington swept their season series with the Jazz 2-0. With the win, the Wizards have now won three of their last four games. Their next eight opponents also have losing records. Though the Wizards have been worse against sub-.500 teams this year than the contenders, it technically is a stretch they can take advantage of.
While the Wizards had essentially all of their players, the Jazz were down a few key guys. They didn't have All-Star starting point guard Mike Conley Jr. or sixth man of the year candidate Jordan Clarkson.
Beal vs. Mitchell
The first time the Wizards and Jazz squared off back in March, Bradley Beal and Donovan Mitchell each dropped 40-plus points in an epic duel between All-Star shooting guards. But in that game, they didn't really get going until the third quarter when the two combined for 35 points.
On Monday, they each caught fire in the first half as Beal had 23 and Mitchell had 19 at the break. Mitchell had 17 points in the first quarter alone, as he dazzled with a wicked crossover and step-back on Ish Smith and a sensational play at the rim where he patiently hung in the air before sinking a layup while contested by Daniel Gafford. Beal had 34 in the game, while Mitchell scored 42.
Mitchell scores in flashier ways than Beal with his elite ability to sky above the rim, but Beal is more methodical and efficient. Both are among the best shooting guards in the NBA and they happen to bring out the best in each other when they go head-to-head. Maybe the NBA should give the Wizards and Jazz a few extra games a year. Two is not enough.
Bertans changed the game
This season has been all about the extremes for Bertans, who has put up some okay numbers overall (39.5 3PT%, 7.3 3PA) but has been troubled by various injuries, a battle with the coronavirus and general inconsistent play. Some nights, he's a game-altering force. But on nights when his three isn't falling, his lack of a well-rounded skillset has been exposed.
Monday was one of those games that showed exactly why the Wizards deemed him worthy of an $80 million contract in free agency. They re-signed him because of his ability to change the momentum of games with microwave scoring from long range. When he's on, he's a dangerous weapon and his value is undeniable.
Against the Jazz, Bertans ignited in the third quarter with three threes to help the Wizards build a double-digit lead. They then rode that to victory. While Bertans had a modest 10 points, it was the timing that helped the most.
Though the Wizards were healthy, they had to work around some holes in their rotation created by starting forwards Deni Avdija and Rui Hachimura getting into foul trouble with impeccable symmetry. They each had picked up their second fouls one after another before five minutes had passed in the first quarter. Then, they got their third fouls almost in unison about three minutes into the second quarter.
Avdija and Hachimura both getting into foul trouble forced head coach Scott Brooks to adjust his rotation. That created an opportunity for Isaac Bonga, who entered in the second quarter for his first meaningful minutes in about three weeks. Bonga, per usual, produced a mixed bag highlighted by some good defensive moments. He had five points, while Avdija and Hachimura combined for four.
Centers vs. Gobert
As good as Mitchell is, the Jazz's most indispensable player, and arguably their best, is center Rudy Gobert. The two-time Defensive Player of the Year anchors their defense and is the biggest reason they have the No. 1 rebounding team in the league. He can completely control games in the paint by altering shots and making guards think twice about driving in his direction.
Wizards big men, however, found plenty of success on Monday night. Alex Len, Robin Lopez and Gafford combined to shoot 12-for-18 from the field. Len only had three points (1-5 FG), but Lopez had 10 points (5-5 FG) and Gafford had 15 (6-8 FG). We have seen Brooks and the Wizards employ a center-by-committee strategy for months now and it has worked surprisingly well at times. This was one of the best examples.