Houston • Wednesday’s win against the Rockets was a big step for the Jazz after consecutive home losses to the Warriors and Grizzlies.
Up next comes another big step, against the Anthony Davis-led New Orleans Pelicans, who are looking increasingly like they’re the real deal.
And then another, versus the improving Mavericks, who seemingly have been re-energized by rookie Luka Doncic and bolstered by the addition of DeAndre Jordan.
And still another, against the decidedly fractured but undeniably talented Timberwolves.
And yet another, in a home rematch with the Memphis team that always seems to give the Jazz so much trouble … and then another, with a trip to undefeated Denver coming on the second night of a back-to-back …
And so on and so forth.
Given all those potential big steps the Jazz are taking, when, then, might the team ascertain exactly where those steps are taking them? At what point are coaches and players able to stop saying “It’s too early to tell” and become capable of divining how any game, or any stretch of them, becomes indicative of a bigger, grander picture?
Houston’s Mike D’Antoni, for one, did not believe Wednesday night’s game was a gauge of anything: “No, not yet. You gotta grind right now. You gotta grind and get as many wins as we can. It doesn’t happen overnight. We see the problems — everybody sees the problems. You just gotta keep working at it.”
Utah’s Quin Snyder was not that dismissive, but nevertheless is inclined to a view that any singular result — victory or defeat — is fraught with the potential to be blown out of proportion.
“I think you can take a lot from them. You can evaluate. Every game is an opportunity to get better,” he said. “As far as making judgments that are long-term about the season, whether you’re winning or losing, I think it’s hard to look forward that many games. Certainly, you don’t treat it like it’s an 80-game season; you treat it, right now, like it’s a four-game season. And every game, there’s opportunities for us to be better, and you don’t want to overreact to not playing well, but you absolutely react. And our guys understand that, and we want to come out and play well and win.”
JAZZ AT PELICANS
When • Saturday, 5 p.m. MT
TV • AT&T SportsNet
So then, for now at least, each game remains an end unto itself, and is a means to a bigger end only insofar as the team determines that every passing contest is generating cumulative progress and improvement.
The whole one-game-at-a-time mantra is cliché, but players still say it by rote and maintain there is merit to it, especially as the team is finding its footing.
There is, after all, much work yet to be done, as both Joe Ingles and Jae Crowder said Wednesday.
While praising his teammates for telling him to “stay aggressive and stay with it,” he pointed out that his performance in Houston would not actually alter that.
“Even if I’d have had a bad game tonight, they’d still be saying, ‘It’s one game. You’re gonna forget about this in two weeks,’” Mitchell said. “We just gotta keep moving forward.”
That, Snyder said, is exactly the right approach.
“He’s gonna have another bad game this year. But he’s gonna get better throughout the course of the year,” the coach said. “We’re not gonna judge him by a good game or a bad game; we just want to see him get better, and that’s what he’s focused on, too.”
All of which is fine and great. But center Rudy Gobert, for one, at least seemed willing to acknowledge that while continued progress is indeed the goal, it doesn’t come in a vacuum — that these athletes are not their “NBA 2K” avatars, where improvement is a sterile achievement accomplished by moving a sliding scale a few notches to the side.
Asked about the importance of this four-game trip, Gobert initially responded with the default “We wanna take it one game at a time,” before acknowledging that yes, the two-game losing streak was frustrating, and yes, it was absolutely wonderful to kick it to the curb.
“We really needed to get a win,” he said. “A win feels good, we’re gonna enjoy it, then get ready for the next game.”
Snyder, meanwhile, when asked if facing three 2018 playoffs qualifiers in a stretch of four games was a good or bad thing for his team this early in the schedule, pointed out that while the competition on this trip is indeed challenging, so too were the preceding games, for that matter.
“We’e been tested already. Sacramento played really fast against us, and we had a tough game there we were able to win. And obviously Golden State was disappointing, kind of a tale of two halves. And then the other night, Memphis is a good team — they’re an excellent defensive team. So all these games we have to compete and focus and be urgent and play well, and move to the next one,” he said. “But I don’t think there’s an opportunity for us to make any assumptions about our team being good or not good or whatever. It’s just being in the present and trying to play as well as we can, and compete.”