The Wizards (21-36) begin a four game road trip out West in Salt Lake City against the struggling Jazz (36-22) on Friday night. Tip off is set for 9:00pm EST. Washington comes off a home win against Brooklyn, and is 5-5 over their last ten. Meanwhile, Utah has lost four straight, their most recent coming Wednesday night at home to the surging Boston Celtics.
Washington continues to flirt with playoff contention. Currently, they have sole possession of ninth place in the Eastern Conference, four and a half games out of eighth place. Their inconsistent play against bottom tier teams like Chicago and Cleveland has made a shot at the playoffs look less likely over the last week. The team continues to be a basketball version of Jekyll and Hyde. They turn in poor efforts against bad teams, then come back and take the Bucks to overtime. At this point, it’s completely random and unpredictable which version of the Wizards fans will see on a given night.
The Jazz are in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. They currently sit in sixth place, two games out of fourth but two and a half games out of seventh. The top seven playoff teams in the West appear to be locked in: Lakers, Nuggets, Clippers, Rockets, Thunder, Jazz, Mavericks. Their order will likely change, but the gap between those teams and the eighth place Grizzlies seems too large for any team to slip out.
Bradley Beal’s Brilliance
There is not much that can be said about Bradley Beal’s recent stretch that hasn’t been said already. He has put together 16 straight games of 25+ points, one game shy of the franchise record. He’s averaging 46 points per game over his last three, and shooting 51.5 percent from three point range over that same stretch. Beal put up 55 against the Bucks on Monday, a new career high after putting up a previous career high of 53 against the Bulls. He is currently second in the NBA in scoring, averaging 30.1 points per game.
These recent performances seem to be motivated by his highly publicized missing out on the All-Star roster. It’s incredible to see him scoring at such a historic clip. Unfortunately, the Wizards have still been losing. At times, Beal has looked visibly frustrated on the court and bench. Other times, he looks highly engaged and motivated. Again, it’s hard to know what to expect from anyone on these Wizards on any given night. Maybe that’s part of the fun.
Scott Brooks Under Fire
Scott Brooks’ decisions with the rotation have come under heavy scrutiny from fans over the last few weeks. To be fair, it’s always under heavy scrutiny. However, it’s been amplified since the trade deadline.
Jerome Robinson has been getting a heavy share of the minutes that were previously going to Troy Brown Jr. Robinson was the hero Wednesday night against the Nets. That should not overshadow the fact that he has looked largely less than stellar in the majority of his minutes so far. He certainly needs time to adjust to the new system. However, it’s been frustrating to see so many of Brown Jr.’s minutes evaporate. Brown Jr. was having his most successful stretch as a pro in the month leading up to the All-Star break. However, any momentum he had seems to be gone. He hasn’t been able to find his groove since the break.
At this point, it’s become extremely difficult to read Coach Brooks’ mind. I have a hard time finding a reason to cut Brown Jr.’s role in the rotation so significantly. Many fans on Twitter have expressed that they do not think Brooks is the right person to lead this team over the next few years. Tommy Sheppard was recently quoted as saying that Brooks’ job is not in question, citing his work developing the Wizards’ young talent. It’s hard to know if that’s just a quote for the media, or how Sheppard actually feels. Either way, this story line isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Player Matchup: Bradley Beal vs Donovan Mitchell
This game has the potential to produce a high scoring duel between these prolific guards. Mitchell has also been hot as of late, averaging 28.8 points over his last five. It hasn’t resulted in wins for Utah, going 1-4 over that stretch. However, the young All-Star continues to carry the load for an excellent team.
I don’t anticipate these two matching up against each other much during the game. However, if the game is close, it could be determined by who can carry the load most effectively down the stretch in the fourth quarter. Beal has done an excellent job of shouldering that burden over the last few games. The Wizards have a tendency to play up to their level of competition, so I’m anticipating a high scoring and competitive shootout tonight.
Points spread: Utah -10.5 (-105)
Money lines: Utah -630; Washington +450
Total points: O/U 232.5