On Wednesday night, the Jazz played one of the best transition offenses in the NBA, and given Utah’s season-long deficiencies in defending against that, the Kings were unsurprisingly successful at it.
Which presents another rather immediate problem.
According to the website Inpredictable, Sacramento is tied for first as the fastest-playing offensive team in the league, taking only 12.9 seconds on average per offensive possession. Meanwhile, Friday’s opponent, the Lakers, rank fourth in the same category, using only 13.2 seconds per possession.
If the Jazz’s shooting is off-target in L.A., that’s an even bigger issue, as the Lakers rank second in both seconds (9.9) and points (1.15) per possession after a defensive rebound.
“There has to be an urgency to get back. At the beginning of the game, they got out behind us,” coach Quin Snyder said after the loss to the Kings. “A lot of it boils down to communication. We got better at that as the game went on.”
Not enough, though, according to his star guard.
Asked what the key was to improving the team’s communication, Donovan Mitchell was blunt:
“Having any — we didn’t have it,” he said. “We just gotta compete and talk. I think that solves a lot in transition. We had three guys trying to stop one guy, which led to 3s; now we’re starting to stop the 3s, and they get buckets in transition.”
Forward Jae Crowder, who came off the bench Wednesday to score 16 points, but who was also beaten downcourt on several defensive possessions, agreed.
“We have a lack of communication. We have a lack of effort at times,” he said. “I don’t know why, but it’s not where it needs to be in order to be consistent.”
That’s the thing, though — no one seems to know why that particular problem is a problem for a team that retained 13 players from a season ago.
Every player who spoke postgame Wednesday conceded that consistency and communication (and consistency of communication) all remain deficiencies, but they also said they’re at a loss as to why.
Of course, those aren’t the only problem areas. Snyder ticked off a list in the wake of the defeat that dropped his team to 8-10 overall and just 2-5 at Vivint Smart Home Arena: transition defense, halfcourt defense, poor defensive rebounding leading to too many second-chance points.
That said, he said players not talking to each other remains the underlying culprit behind each of those.
“If I could point to one thing, it’s our communication. That’s the thing that links you together and makes you be able to defend as a group,” Snyder said. “You can have as much effort and as much determination [as you want], but if you don’t communicate, you don’t play collectively. And that’s what defense is predicated upon — the collective.”
To this point, Utah’s defense has been underwhelming — 28th in the league in opponents’ field-goal percentage (47.9), 26th in opponents’ points off turnovers (18.9 per game), 20th in opponents’ 3-point shooting (36.0 percent), and 17th in defensive rating (109.2), per stats.nba.com.
Everyone knows those numbers aren’t good enough.
“When we do all we have to do, we’re a very good defensive team, and we know that,” said center Rudy Gobert. “We just have to be more consistent doing it, and it starts from the beginning, from the tipoff.”
Mitchell remains convinced it will happen.
“It just is a mindset. We know we can do it — we’ve done it for a whole year and more. We gotta be able to just do it on a consistent basis and not [just] when we want to,” he said. “… We know what we’re capable of, and we’re not playing that way at all.”
So, in the meantime, he added, the Jazz can’t be too focused on what the Lakers are doing when they have their own issues to fix.
“We can’t be worried about LeBron [James]; we gotta worry about ourselves right now,” Mitchell added. “That’s where it starts, it starts with us. And once we figure our stuff out, we’ll be fine.”
JAZZ AT LAKERS
At Staples Center, Los Angeles
Tipoff • Friday, 8:30 p.m. MST
TV • NBATV, AT&T SportsNet
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 8-10; Lakers 10-7
Last meeting • Jazz, 112-97 (April 8)
About the Jazz • Utah won all three of last season’s matchups with the Lakers, and has won seven straight meetings overall — including three in a row at Staples Center. … The Jazz are 6-5 on the road this season, compared to just 2-5 at home. … Center Rudy Gobert ranks second in the league in FG% (69.4), fifth in rebounds (12.9) and seventh in blocks (1.9).
About the Lakers • Los Angeles ranks fourth in the NBA in points per game, at 116.2, but also ranks 26th in points allowed, with 114.8. … Star forward LeBron James is second in the league in ppg, with 28.9. He’s also averaging 8.1 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game. … After starting the season 2-5, the Lakers have won eight of their last 10 games.