SALT LAKE CITY — After beating the team with the second-worst record in the NBA Saturday night, the Utah Jazz get to play the team with the worst record in the league Wednesday night when the Washington Wizards visit EnergySolutions Arena for a 7 p.m. game.
What a relief it must be for the Jazz, who besides the two games against league cellar-dwellars, have enjoyed seven of the previous eight days off with no games after surviving that compact, road-heavy schedule to start the season.
Just don’t tell Jazz coaches and players that they’re playing the worst team in the NBA Wednesday night. They don’t believe it and know the Wizards aren’t playing like the worst team right now with a 9-30 record that is deceiving.
“Their team is playing very well right now,’’ said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin. “We can’t take anything for granted. We can’t look at anybody’s record and think because their record is what it is, we can show up and win games.’’
The Wizards are coming off a thrilling 98-95 victory at Portland Monday night where Jordan Crawford sank a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Earlier on the four-game road trip that began a week ago, the Wizards defeated Denver by four, lost at Sacramento by one point and fell to the L.A. Clippers by seven. Before leaving on their Western road swing, the Wizards won three straight at home, including a 101-99 victory over Oklahoma City.
A lot of the resurgence has to do with the return of John Wall to the lineup. Washington, which began the season losing its first 12 games, has won four of six games since former No. 1 draft pick returned to the lineup after missing nearly half of the season because of a stress injury to his left kneecap.
“We have to know where Wall is and get back and keep him away from the rim,’’ said Corbin. “They’re an explosive team and they can score points. We’ve got to make sure we get back in transition and crowd their guards. We also have to understand what’s going on with Nene and those guys down low.’’
The Jazz defeated Washington 83-76 back in mid-November on their first Eastern swing of the season, but they know it’s a different team they’re facing.
“They’ve improved a lot since the first time we played them,’’ said Jazz guard Randy Foye. “I watched them play against Denver and the Clippers and Portland last night. You can never approach a game like (you think you’ll win), because those are the games you’re going to lose. You’ve got to come in prepared and as focused as ever.’’
Foye says Wall makes a big difference in the Wizards’ lineup because “he has more speed and knows how to do certain things to get guys shots. Even though he’s not 100 percent, he’s a smart and savvy player.’’
Besides Wall and Crawford on the guardline, the Wizards have Bradley Beal, who has started nearly every game at shooting guard, Nene and Emeka Okafor in the middle along with Martell Webster and Kevin Seraphin at forwards.
Along with the improving Wizards, Corbin is concerned about his own team not being stale after so many days off during the past 10 days.
“We’ve been playing pretty well and when you’re playing well you want to ride that momentum,’’ he said. “When you get a break, you never know which way it can go. But we’ve had some good days of practice and they’ve rested their bodies but their minds still have to stay in the game. The guys have been pretty good about it.’’
JAZZ NOTES: Since the start of the new year, the Jazz have the second-best record in NBA at 7-2. Only New Jersey is better in 2013 at 9-1
Crawford, who had the game-winner Monday night at Portland, leads the Wizards in scoring at 15.0 ppg. Okafor is the top rebounder at 7.7 rpg.
Wall is averaging 14.0 points and 6.7 assists per game in his six games back in the lineup.
After Wednesday’s game, the Jazz head to Los Angeles to play the slumping Lakers Friday night before returning home for four straight home games, beginning with Indiana on Saturday.
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