Monson: Five things the Jazz must do to stay alive
Five things the Jazz can do to find a few rays of light in the vast darkness of their first-round playoff series against the Spurs:
1. Put Derrick Favors on the floor.
For some reason, Ty Corbin is still hesitant to use his young power forward over long stretches. Favors played 26 minutes in Game 1 and 21 in Game 2, all as the Jazz splintered into a burning heap in both losses.
With Favors playing Wednesday night, the Jazz actually had a positive-point advantage. When he was out, they got annihilated. He is the team's most athletic big man and best defender, and he's played with more toughness than any other Jazz player. Beyond that, if this playoff experience is supposed to push the Jazz ahead in their development, shouldn't their most promising prospect get meaningful minutes to actually develop?
"Derrick should play more," Corbin admitted at Friday's practice.
Favors concurred: "It's hard because being a competitor, you want to play in big moments like these. But I've got to wait my turn."
It is his turn.
2. Hit an outside shot.
All season, the Jazz lagged near the bottom of league standings in 3-point shooting. And, then, when they needed those shots to drop during their stretch run to qualify for the playoffs, they suddenly got more accurate. It complemented their layup-first offense in a major way, opening space for guys like Al Jefferson to work their wonders down low.
That hasn't been the case thus far against the Spurs. The Jazz made only 32 of 76 shots in the first game (42 percent) and 31 of 90 in the second (34 percent). From beyond the arc, they've hit a combined 5 of 19.
Maybe that wouldn't seem so bad if it weren't for the fact the Spurs have dusted 87 of 166 attempts thus far, including 16 of 39 from 3. Part of the problem for the Jazz is an apparent offensive anxiety, where they are not getting to their spots on the floor. Rather, they are rushing shots and suffering the consequences of misses, which frequently have led to transition baskets the other way.
Even Jefferson, who normally gets comfortable on the floor, flipping his crafty junk over defenders for easy scores, has been bumped out, forcing him to shoot two to three feet farther away from the basket than he typically does. And because of the defense put on him by Tim Duncan, and often a second defender, Jefferson is trying to cope by holding or dribbling the ball longer, which bogs down the entire Jazz attack.
"When things go bad," he said, "we get out of what we're supposed to do."
3. Get solid leadership out front.
Devin Harris has struggled in a huge way thus far. He has a total of three assists, and in a Jazz offense built on timely setups, that's trouble. He's also scored only 12 points.
"It's just basketball," Harris said. "Sometimes shots drop, sometimes they don't."
And sometimes the Jazz win, sometimes they get crushed.
4. Regain some confidence and self-respect.
Playing at home should boost the Jazz. But it is ultimately up to them to find the fight within against a talented and motivated Spurs team that is, frankly, better than the Jazz. Under those circumstances, losses are acceptable. Losses, though, absorbed without heart and pluck will never be accepted around here.
The Jazz are more capable than what they showed in those defeats at AT&T Center, where they betrayed themselves by shrinking away. A stronger effort would not only shorten up the margins, and maybe even earn them a win or two, it could also give the young Jazz some peace of mind going forward in a playoff experience that was supposed to help them in their progression. If they roll over, this entire exercise will be more than a waste of time, and a waste of a lost lottery pick, it will be detrimental to their alleged ascent toward whatever comes next.
"We're down two, but we're going to keep fighting," Favors said.
Make that â¦ start fighting.
5. Corbin has to settle in.
It might not be fair that a head coach who is in the playoffs for the first time in that role has to match minds with one of the NBA's best coaches, but that's exactly where Corbin finds himself. Gregg Popovich not only has the better team, but his decisions thus far have made that better team better still.
Jefferson suggested going to the Jefferson-Paul Millsap-Favors frontline more often: "The big lineup could hurt [the Spurs] if we get into it earlier in the game," he said.
Corbin is taking that under consideration. He said he constantly critiques himself and admitted to being nervous in Game 1. After promising a stronger effort from himself and his team in Game 2, the Jazz flopped. Tough as it might be, he'll have to discover a way to bring the best out of his team "We have a lot left in us," he said in however many games remain.
"We have to play better," he said. And he repeated it about a hundred more times.
GORDON MONSON hosts the "Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.