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Kragthorpe: Loss brings Utah Jazz's momentum to a standstill
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In the meaningless final minute Saturday night, Jazz center Al Jefferson stood at the 3-point line on the left angle and launched his only successful shot of the second half.

Too bad Jefferson's flat-footed style failed to work for his teammates.

You know what they say in the NBA: If you're standing still, you're going backward. That's precisely what happened to the Jazz in a 99-86 loss Memphis at EnergySolutions Arena.

They watched the Grizzlies steamroll them after trailing by 10 points at halftime. In losing to Phoenix and Memphis, the Jazz (13-12) have undone much of the good they did by beating the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio. They also made their upcoming four-game road trip seem much more intimidating.

They may be traveling around the country, but they certainly were not getting anywhere in the second half Saturday. During a third quarter when the Jazz made 3 of 20 shots from the field, the reason behind Memphis' recovery was frighteningly simple: The Grizzlies clamped down by having Zach Randolph guard Jefferson, with almost constant help from a second defender.

Is it supposed to be that easy? The dilemma is whether to blame the Jazz's offense for being so reliant on Jefferson, the other guys for not doing their part or Jefferson for not responding well to the tight coverage.

Let's go with all of the above.

After scoring 14 points in the first half, Jefferson missed the only four shots he took in the second half — until the late 3-pointer — while making four free throws. If it seems harsh to criticize a guy who scored 21 points and leads the Jazz with a 17.4 average, well, something's flawed here. When a decent defensive team decides to take away Jefferson and his teammates miss shots and stand around too much, it all breaks down in a hurry.

Coach Tyrone Corbin tried to solve the problem by calling more plays designed to create movement, with little success. In his postgame interview, he offered a mini coaching clinic, minus the whiteboard.

"We've got to get [Jefferson] some guys cutting to the basket, to give him an opportunity to go one-on-one," Corbin said. "If not, we bring a guy across and get the ball to the weak side. … When you stop moving, it's just playing into what they're doing."

So detecting the Grizzlies' strategy was not an issue. Reacting to it was a big problem.

"They had a guy sitting in my lap the whole time," Jefferson said. "It's kind of difficult for an offensive player to operate. We've just got to do a better job moving. And like I said, I've got to do a better job passing the ball out quicker."

When the Jazz's offense is working, it is quite efficient. But when it all stagnates, wow, it's painful to watch.

The state of the Jazz is such that there's no such thing as overreacting to a home defeat. They're 9-2 at ESA, but those losses to the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis are killers, just because of the Jazz's road struggles.

So the Jazz are right where they were after 25 games last season, when their 13-12 start sent them toward a 36-30 record in the lockout-shortened schedule. They're not terribly far from where they should be, considering their road-heavy November and December, but the reality is they may come home after Christmas with a losing record.

If you're standing still, other teams in the West are passing you. The Jazz drove home that point Saturday, in the place where they never can afford to lose a game.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt

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