Wizards-Jazz Preview

A four-game road trip seemed to wear the Utah Jazz down. Their

schedule, though, hasn’t been nearly as grueling as the Washington

Wizards’.

In danger of losing three straight for the second time this

season, the Jazz return home Monday night to face a Wizards team

that will continue a grueling stretch.

Utah (42-24) has lost back-to-back games for the first time

since a season-worst three-game skid from Dec. 31-Jan. 4. After

winning their previous four, the Jazz stumbled down the stretch of

their trip.

Despite shooting 57.9 percent (11 for 19) from 3-point range,

Utah lost 119-111 to Oklahoma City on Sunday night in a matchup of

teams jockeying for playoff position in the Western Conference. The

Jazz are in fourth place, one-half game ahead of the Thunder.

Injuries certainly didn’t help Utah’s cause. Center Mehmet Okur

(back) and forward Andrei Kirilenko (calf) were missing from the

starting lineup, and the pair are questionable for this game.

“There’s nothing you can do about it,” Jazz forward Carlos

Boozer said. “It happens at this point in the season. We’re all

banged up a little bit, some guys a little banged up more than

others.”

Okur was held out after playing a season-high 41 minutes in a

95-87 loss to Milwaukee on Friday night. Kirilenko left that game

in the second half.

Okur and Kirilenko are the team’s third- and fourth-leading

scorers, respectively, combining for 25.0 points and 11.4 rebounds

per game. Paul Millsap started for Okur and C.J. Miles took

Kirilenko’s spot.

Wesley Matthews, who has started 13 straight games since Ronnie

Brewer was traded to Memphis on Feb. 18, is coming off an

outstanding game. The undrafted rookie guard made six 3-pointers

and scored a season-high 29 points.

Matthews is shooting 56.0 percent (14 for 25) from beyond the

arc over his last 11 games. He poses a tough challenge for a

perimeter defense on a team that has gotten little rest.

Washington, which has lost a season-high seven straight, had

Sunday off after wrapping up a stretch of three games in three

nights, including a road game in the middle.

This week wont’ get any easier for the Wizards. After spending

Sunday traveling, they’re playing on consecutive nights, including

a matchup against Denver on Tuesday evening, to open a four-game

road trip.

Coach Flip Saunders called it “ridiculous” that Washington will

have only one day off at the end of that trip.

“I guess it’s like that commercial,” Saunders said. “‘Give it to

Mikey. He’ll eat it, he’ll do anything.'”

Saunders has had plenty to be upset about in his first season

with the Wizards. JaVale McGee’s effort raised Saunders’ ire

following a 109-95 loss to Orlando on Saturday.

The second-year center, starting for the 13th time this season,

had five points on 1-of-6 shooting and three rebounds – all on the

offensive end.

“You can’t have a starting center not get a defensive rebound,”

Saunders said.

Saunders, though, has to be pleased with the development of

6-foot-11 Andray Blatche, who had 32 points. Blatche is averaging

24.5 points and 9.8 rebounds in 14 games since joining the starting

lineup.

Blatche will likely be matched up with Boozer, who is averaging

22.4 points and shooting 65.7 percent in seven home games against

the Wizards.

Utah and Washington each won at home in last season’s series.

The Jazz have won 18 of 21 at home versus the Wizards.