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Last season's Wizards are a cautionary tale for the Jazz, but Mike Conley isn't worried


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WASHINGTON — On Nov. 15, 2021, the Washington Wizards defeated the New Orleans Pelicans to move to a surprising 10-3 on the season to remain in first place in the Eastern Conference.

A 10-3 record and the best record in a conference? Yeah, that should sound familiar to Utah Jazz fans.

So how did that work out for Washington?

After its hot start, things spiraled — and quickly. The team went 14-26 over the next three months and the trade deadline featured wholesale changes. Washington finished 35-47, which was good enough for 12th place in the East.

Amid the downward spiral, some of last season's Wizards offered up their thoughts on what had gone wrong.

"Everybody had their own agendas with how they wanted to attack this year, them playing," said wing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who is now with the Denver Nuggets. "A lot of guys were fighting for minutes, they were complaining about minutes, not getting the ball, not touching it."

Added Kyle Kuzma, who is still on the Wizards (and torched the Jazz on Saturday): "At the end of the day, we started out really well and we just hit a rough patch and came really separated, if that makes sense."

Statistically, as ESPN's Kevin Pelton pointed out, Washington had a lot of luck in its early start. Through the first 15 games, Wizards' opponents made a league-low 31% of their 3-point attempts. After that, teams shot the third highest 3-point percentage in the league against them.

The Jazz, similarly, have been on the right side of some poor shooting nights. In their 10 wins, opponents have shot 31% against them. Not surprising, that number rises to around 38% in their four losses.

So what can the Jazz, who jumped out to a Western Conference best 10-3 record themselves this season, learn from Washington's experience last season?

Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. offered up a bit of counsel before Saturday's game. He said that it was more important to try and sustain a certain level of play than it was to pay attention to a record. It's the NBA, teams are going to win games they shouldn't, and lose games where they outplayed their opponent. It happens.

"There are ebbs and flows to a long season," he said. "You're gonna win a few games that you probably shouldn't, and you're gonna go through some slumps. So just trying to find a middle ground and then continue to build. Hopefully you don't let go of the rope in either area — offensively or defensively — and keep playing together."

So is Utah in danger of a similar slip up after it lost to the Wizards on Saturday in D.C.?

Mike Conley doesn't think so.

"We are capable of losing any night, we are capable of winning any night; we know who we are," Conley said. "We are a team that is going to keep competing regardless. We know we weren't going to end the season 73 and whatever; it's very tough to do. We have a great group of guys and a group that understands that tomorrow night is a new day."

Instead of the loss leading to a spiral, Conley believes it will allow the Jazz to learn to be better.

Against Washington, the team knows it didn't get back in transition enough, or fought hard enough on switches. It knows that the ball got stuck at times, and that it didn't always find the right shot. Those are things it can now correct for the next game.

"We got the right mentality, the right guys to turn it around and not let one loss lead to two or three or four or five in a row — and hopefully nip it before it gets out of control," Conley said.

They've got a chance to do that Sunday in Philadelphia.

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