Bench playing a role as Jazz face Wizards
Their second unit has turned from a weakness into a strength for the Utah Jazz.
The Jazz have won eight straight and 13 of 14 games heading into Sunday's clash with the host Washington Wizards. Better bench play is one key catalyst behind the improved fortunes for Utah.
Over the last two games, the Jazz are averaging 56.5 bench points. They have scored 40 or more bench points in four straight contests. Since trading for Jordan Clarkson in late December, Utah's bench players have become a more cohesive unit and have been able to keep building momentum for the Jazz while the starters rest.
Obviously, the guys who are on the bench unit throughout the whole year -- we take pride in minutes and things like that," forward Georges Niang said. "Getting out there and trying to make an impact for our starters is something big to us."
Bench play isn't the only area in which Utah is rising. The Jazz defense is evolving into a force of nature that smothers opponents over the course of 48 minutes.
Utah forced seven first-quarter turnovers and scored 14 of its first 19 points off those miscues in a 109-92 victory over Charlotte on Friday night. The Jazz ripped off a 19-2 run to take control by the end of the first quarter and led by as many as 33 points in the third quarter before resting the starting lineup the entire fourth quarter.
It marked the second straight game where every starter played less than 30 minutes for Utah. Jazz coach Quin Snyder likes the progress he has seen from his players with communication and timing on defensive possessions. Now the key, Snyder said, is to keep building on it.
"We have to keep guarding," Snyder said. "That's where you find your consistency."
The Wizards are also a team that is finding better consistency as the calendar has flipped to 2020. Washington earned its third win in the last four games after claiming a 111-101 victory over Atlanta on Friday night. It also marked the third straight home win for the Wizards.
Washington is finding ways to win even while playing short-handed. The Wizards used a fourth-quarter rally to prevail against the Hawks. Jordan McRae led the way with a team-high 29 points. McRae also collected eight rebounds and dished out six assists.
"I needed him to be more of a playmaker, and I thought he did that tonight even though he got a bunch of shots," coach Scott Brooks told the Washington Post after the game. "But the way their defense was playing, it allowed him to get his own, but he also had six assists. And he had a lot of extra passes that could have been more assists."
Over a nine-game stretch before the victory over Atlanta, the Wizards did not have key rotation players Davis Bertans, Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant, and Moritz Wagner because of injuries. Bertans returned to the lineup against the Hawks and gave Washington a lift on the perimeter with 14 points and a trio of 3-pointers.
The biggest absence continues to be Bradley Beal. Washington's leader in scoring (27.8) and assists (6.6), Beal has missed seven of the team's past eight games because of right knee soreness and continues to be day-to-day.
The Wizards face a major challenge in continuing their home success against Utah if Beal is unable to return on Sunday. Since starting 4-8 on the road, the Jazz have won seven of their last eight away from home.
--Field Level Media