Washington centre Marcin Gortat is excited about the Wizards’ trade for forward Markieff Morris.
On Thursday night, he played like it.
Gortat had 22 points and 10 rebounds, John Wall added 17 points and 11 assists and Washington beat the Utah Jazz 103-89 in the first game for both teams after the All-Star break.
"It’s going to be a fresh start for him," said Gortat about Morris, his teammate for two seasons in Phoenix. "We don’t have room for errors anymore, we don’t have room for losses now. We’ve just got to continue to win the games, and Markieff is going to come and help us."
Hours before the start, the Wizards acquired Morris at the trade deadline from Phoenix, ending his tumultuous tenure with the Suns.
Morris was suspended for two games in December after throwing a towel at since-fired coach Jeff Hornacek during a game. Then in Phoenix’s last game, Morris got into a physical confrontation with teammate Archie Goodwin on the sideline, exchanging shoves.
Tenth-place Washington improved to 24-28 to move within 2 1/2 games of Charlotte for the eighth and final Eastern Conference spot. Gortat believes the same traits that hurt Morris in Phoenix will be exactly what the Wizards need to climb back into the race.
"This guy is emotional," Gortat said. "I’m not saying he’s a quiet kid. Yeah, he’s a kind of spicy kid, kind of aggressive kid. From time to time, he’s aggressive. But listen, this is what we need."
Rescheduled from Jan. 23 because of a snowstorm, the game was first of three in three days for Washington following the All-Star break.
Bradley Beal and Nene each scored 16 points for the Wizards, who forced the Jazz into a season-high 23 turnovers.
"I was really proud of our guys today," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "That was important for us tonight, to really try to speed their pace up, and it all stemmed from what we were doing defensively."
Gordon Hayward scored 19 points and Rodney Hood added 18 points for Utah.
Rudy Gobert had 16 points and 12 rebounds for the Jazz, who at 26-27 are percentage points behind Houston for the final playoff spot in the West.
The Jazz play at home Friday night and in Portland on Sunday.
"That’s what happens when you have a snow day," Hayward said. "It’s unfortunate for us but we’re professionals and we’ll get back tomorrow with another tough test tomorrow and hopefully we play better."
Utah also made a deadline deal, picking up backup point guard Shelvin Mack from Atlanta and sending the Hawks a second-round pick.
Mack averaged 3.9 points, 1.6 assists and 7.5 minutes in 24 games this season. He’s shooting a career-low 14.8 per cent from 3-point range, but fits the Jazz’s search for point guard depth since Dante Exum tore his ACL during the summer.
"He’s an intelligent player," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "For him to be effective and help us, he’s got to find a role within our group, and I think he’s capable of doing that."
BETTING ON BEAL?
After playing only 24 minutes Thursday, Beal suggested he might be able to participate in all of the Wizards three games in three days. His minutes have been limited since returning from a right leg stress reaction on Jan. 13.
"I’m playing tomorrow. But if they tell me no, then (I’m) probably not," he said.
Jazz: Reserve G Trey Burke returned after flu-like symptoms forced him to miss Utah’s final three games before the All-Star break. … Utah dropped to 4-8 in the first game of back-to-back sets.
Wizards: Veteran G Alan Anderson (ankle surgery) came out of Wednesday’s practice "fine" according to Wittman, as he gets closer to making his Wizards debut … G Gary Neal (sore right leg) missed his third straight game.
Jazz: Host Boston on Friday night
Wizards: Host Detroit on Friday night.