Pressure is off as Wizards visit Jazz
The tension heading into the Washington Wizards' game against the Utah Jazz on Friday in Salt Lake City will be considerably lower thanks to Thursday's NBA results.
When the Sacramento Kings lost to the New Orleans Pelicans, the Jazz clinched a Western Conference playoff spot.
And when the Miami Heat topped the Dallas Mavericks, the Wizards were eliminated from contention for an Eastern Conference playoff berth.
That leaves the Jazz looking to fine-tune their game and jockey for playoff seeding in the remaining games while the Wizards turn their sights to the future.
Defense is where the Jazz have carved out their NBA identity over the past few seasons, but it is the offense that has taken center stage over the past few games.
Utah enters play Friday having tallied at least 30 assists in four of the team's last six contests. The Jazz dished out 33 assists in a 115-100 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday while scoring 41 total baskets. Utah improved to 18-4 this season when finishing with 30 or more assists.
Joe Ingles set the pace with a career-high 14 assists. Ricky Rubio added eight. It helped the Jazz win for the eighth time in nine games.
Ingles finished one rebound shy of getting Utah's first regular season triple-double since 2008 after collecting nine rebounds and scoring 11 points.
"Joe played great," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "It was a big night in a lot of ways. (He brought) defense, playmaking and shooting at a high level. It was a typical Joe Ingles game."
The Jazz will need everyone to contribute on offense to help compensate for the loss of guard Dante Exum, who underwent surgery Thursday to repair a partially torn patellar tendon in his right knee. He presumably miss the rest of the regular season.
Exum, who last played on March 14, was averaging 6.9 points and 2.6 assists in 42 games this season.
Utah is churning out insane assist numbers by dominating in the paint. During their recent three-game winning streak, the Jazz have averaged 63.3 points in the paint. That's 23.3 more points in that category per contest than their opponents.
Rudy Gobert has been doing most of the damage. Gobert earned his 60th double-double of the season on Wednesday after finishing with 22 points and 11 rebounds against the Lakers. He even uncorked a rare jump shot from the top of the key to go with his usual array of dunks.
"It's not the first jump shot I've made, but I've got to be able to shoot it consistently and with confidence," Gobert said.
Confidence is something the Wizards are also seeking as they finish out a tough season. Washington took a good first step forward after beating the Phoenix Suns 124-121 on Wednesday night. Jabari Parker led the way with 28 points and 15 rebounds. Thomas Bryant added 18 points and 19 boards.
It snapped a five-game losing streak for the Wizards, which started with a 116-95 loss to Utah on March 18.
Bryant had a pair of big baskets in the final seconds to help Washington escape with the victory as the Wizards survived a 50-point outing from Suns guard Devin Booker.
"My teammates believe in me," Bryant told the team's website. "It's a real big thing. I give it all to my teammates. They believe in me to make that shot, time and time after I missed so many shots this month, this year. To have that confidence is great. Right there in the huddle my teammates and coaches were telling me be ready to shoot the ball."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 29, 2019