This is how quickly it all crumbles.
In 48 minutes Wednesday night, the Jazz went from a five-game winning streak to an embarrassing loss, from having everybody begin to believe in them to causing a rush for the exits midway through the fourth quarter, from showing signs of storming into the playoffs to just hoping the Los Angeles Lakers implode.
The Jazz’s 113-96 loss to Denver at EnergySolutions Arena could be traced to any number of factors, starting with the reality that the Nuggets are much better than anybody else they’ve played lately. And the irony of the Jazz’s phenomenal outside shooting of the previous two games is that such confidence is exactly what caused this game to unravel for them.
Those displays against Brooklyn and Portland stemmed from efficient offense, the inside-out approach that creates open shots. Not so against the Nuggets. This looked more like a one-pass-and-fire approach. “That’s not who we are,” said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin.
Opening the third quarter, trailing by only five points, the Jazz proceeded to launch one failed attempt after another on their first six possessions. The film shows that Jazz center Al Jefferson touched the ball during that sequence, but you would never know it by the shot chart.
Paul Millsap, 20-footer. Gordon Hayward, 25-footer. Mo Williams, layup blocked by ex-Jazz center Kosta Koufos. Hayward, 17-footer. Randy Foye, 25-footer. Williams, 23-footer.
Aside from Williams’ driving attempt, that adds up to 110 feet of missed shots. The result was Denver’s quickly building its lead to 13 points — and, ultimately, creating a gap between the Jazz and the Lakers that feels like a lot more than a half-game for the Western Conference’s last playoff spot.
The Jazz’s lack of defense certainly deserves as much blame for this defeat as the offense. And I know how this stuff works: None of us would be questioning the shot selection if those shots were going in.
“I thought we got some good looks; we just couldn’t knock ’em down and they capitalized on that,” Hayward said.
He’s right in the sense that a few makes amid all those misses may have altered things in the Jazz’s favor. Instead, the Jazz made Corbin appear overmatched against Denver’s George Karl, made themselves look slow and defenseless against the athletic Nuggets (even with 37-year-old Andre Miller as their starting point guard) and made all those fans leave early — or stay and boo, exercising another option.
“They know how we can play,” Hayward said, “so they probably expect that.”
Of course, those standards are the Jazz’s own fault — or maybe we should just blame Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland (twice) and Brooklyn as co-conspirators. Bring in a capable, rested opponent, and everything changes.
“You’re talking about a good basketball team we played tonight,” Williams said.
Denver could not say the same, judging by this sample.
Having blistered their last two opponents, Williams and Foye teamed for 4-for-21 shooting. “You can’t shoot the ball good every game,” Williams said. “Every other area of my game, I played well.”
So at least the Jazz showed some semblance of defensive attitude, even if it came only during the postgame interviews.
What now? The Jazz (39-37) own the tiebreaker with the Lakers. So they need as many wins in their remaining six games as the Lakers get in their last seven games.
That basically means with another loss or two, the Jazz can forget about the playoffs. What’s more, the Nuggets’ visit reminded us all of what the Jazz are in for, if they get there.