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Wizards vs. Jazz Pregame: The Start Of An End-Of-Season Push (Or Collapse)

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Jazz at Wizards

February 18, 2016 at 7:00 PM
Verizon Center, Washington, DC
TV: CSN Mid-Atlantic
Radio: 99.1FM


Last time they met was..

March 18, 2015 – Vivint Smart Home Arena: Wizards 88, Jazz 84
Game Notebook 68, Wizards at Jazz: Wiz Win 5th Straight; Molding Into Playoff Form


What to watch

The start of an end-of-season push (or collapse). As we exit All-Star weekend, let’s take a look at where the Wizards stand:

At five games under .500, the Wizards sit at 10th in the Eastern Conference, three games out of the 8-seed. The good news? They have 31 games left, and All-Star Jimmy Butler is out at least a few more weeks for the 7th seeded Chicago Bulls.

The bad news? The Pistons, who sit at 9th, just brought in Tobias Harris to boost their playoff push. Every team ahead of the Wizards is at least .500, and none of them are expected to suddenly start playing significantly worse.

The ugly truth? There’s not any good reason to expect the Wizards to start playing significantly better. But playing significantly better is exactly what the Wizards will have to do to make up ground and make the playoffs. The Wizards will need to play something like .600 basketball starting tonight to crack the 8-seed, after having played .451 basketball to this point.

Here’s a list of teams who have played .600 or above basketball this season:

  • Golden State Warriors
  • San Antonio Spurs
  • Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Toronto Raptors
  • LA Clippers

That’s it. Basically, to EVEN MAKE THE PLAYOFFS, the Wizards have to transform into a top 5 caliber NBA team. And I’m not all that optimistic that the return of Alan Anderson makes that happen.

On the plus side, at least the Wizards don’t have to start their playoff push with a back-to-back. Instead, we get a back-to-back-to-back!! Nice way to use up all that All-Star rest in three days!

First up? The 26-26 Utah Jazz, who come in 8-2 in their last ten games, intent on bringing the Blues to the Verizon Center.


Key Matchup

Wizards Presto vs. Jazz Largo

Presto is fast paced. Largo is slow. The Wizards are 4th in the NBA in pace. The Jazz are last in pace, and rank 5th in the NBA in points allowed. They have something valuable that Wizards fans only dream of: An identity!

The Jazz will slow the game down, execute in the half court, and pound you inside-out. Derrick Favors can torch you out to 18 feet, and Rudy Gobert dominates the paint on both ends. Gordon Hayward can beat you with and without the basketball, and has proven his mettle in the clutch. And their composer at point guard is one of the few point guards left in the NBA that you’ve never heard of.


X-factor

Raul Neto

Raul Neto is a 23 year old rookie from Brazil. He averages 6 points and 3 assists, and shoots just 42% from the field. Those are some of the least intimidating stats you will ever see. Yet Neto has started 50 of Utah’s 52 games this season. So what gives?

Well, Quinn Snyder gives. Snyder gives Neto playing time, he gives him trust in the offense, and he gives him three major responsibilities:

  • Get control of the tempo.
  • Play defense.
  • Shoot well enough to be honored.

On most nights, Neto nails his role. He doesn’t get caught up in pushing the tempo against fast paced teams, instead getting things sorted out, and only pushing at the most opportune times. He holds his own defensively, even against the loaded backcourts of Western Conference, forcing guards into Utah’s excellent help defense rotations, and generally irritating and hassling opponents enough to slow the pace down. And he shoots 39% from three point range, just well enough that you can’t abandon him.

“Locking down” or “neutralizing” Raul Neto isn’t the right term. John Wall needs to emasculate Raul Neto. He needs to make Neto’s existence in the game so irrelevant that even after this game, you’ve STILL never heard of Raul Neto. If Neto controls the tempo early, the Jazz will leave singing a winning tune late.


Fun Factor:

Hope. Because of this:

The All-Star break gives time for players to relax and reset, and for fans to regain hope. John Wall got to spend the All-Star break around nothing but great players for the first time in months. And although it probably sucked to be reminded that none of those guys were his regular teammates, it had to feel good to be reminded just how easily he fits among the games best. Wall’s talent (along with not actually watching any Wizards basketball) gives us all reason to hope that this playoff push is possible. And once we get in, anything can happen. Shoot, who else in the NBA has a guy who can do this?


Prediction

we are Hoop District

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