Mexico City • The Jazz couldn’t score. Again.
Whether it was the altitude, the travel, or simply an offense that has been in the bottom 10 of the league all year long, the Jazz lost by an ugly score of 96-89 to the Orlando Magic in Mexico City on Saturday afternoon.
Utah shot only 31.5 percent from the field, making just 28 of their 89 attempts. Apparently, shooting skill had nothing to do with it: typically good shooters Joe Ingles and Kyle Korver shot only 3 of 19 combined from the field (3 of 14 from three), and below-average shooter Ricky Rubio shot just 3 of 14 and 0 for 4 from three.
Utah’s Raul Neto greeted the fans before the tip with a speech in their native Spanish, while the Magic’s Isaiah Briscoe made his team’s announcement in English.
From there, though, it was ugly. The game was clearly influenced by the unique location: located at about 7,300 feet above sea level, even the players from mountainous Utah looked gassed on the floor. Utah coach Quin Snyder made short substitutions for his players throughout the game, trying to give them a play or two off so they could catch their breath.
“Every game has different circumstances,” Snyder noted after the game. But the players all noted the impact that the elevation had on the game.
“We absolutely felt it,” Favors said. “It could have affected our shooting, you never know, but we don’t want to use that as an excuse.”
But even despite the terrible shooting, the Jazz kept pace with the Magic and even held an 11-point lead in the third quarter. That was thanks to some Orlando difficulties with keeping the ball: They had 22 turnovers overall, including 15 in the first half.
One might think that would juice Utah’s offense, but no. The Jazz scored only 12 points on the possessions after those 22 turnovers.
“We turned it over right back. I think a lot of it is just focus, getting turnovers and sprinting to get out in transition. We just kind of stopped," Donovan Mitchell said. "We’ve done it in spurts, and in certain games, but we haven’t been able to do it on a continual basis.”
Responding to the shooting difficulties, the Jazz went inside, but even those easy shots were missing. The Jazz made only 12 of their 32 layups and dunks on the night, half of which came from Derrick Favors, who probably had the Jazz’s best game, with 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting.
The bricks didn’t stop the sellout crowd of 20,011 at Arena Ciudad de Mexico from enjoying the game, though. The fans — there were definitely more in attendance wearing Jazz gear than Orlando gear, though the Magic were the home team for the game — whistled when players were at the free-throw line and started a wave in the game’s final minutes.
The Jazz had a six-point fourth-quarter lead, but efficient scoring from Terrence Ross (19 points, 8-of-9 shooting) turned things around for the Magic early in the quarter. Orlando’s fourth-quarter total of 41 points was bolstered by free throws in the game’s final minute, but still reflects how the Jazz let their defense slip. At a certain point, the inability of the team to score impacted the level of the defense to hold firm at the other end.
“We played defense, we played defense well. But at the end of the day, if you don’t make shots, it changes the game,” Mitchell said. “Our defense just has to step up even more, and it just didn’t at the game.”
The loss moves the Jazz back to two games below .500, heading into Houston against a Rockets team that has won their last two in impressive fashion. The Magic, meanwhile, move to 14-15. For Utah, it’s their last game against a team that missed the playoffs last season until Dec. 29, when they’ll get the opportunity to play the New York Knicks.
• The Jazz couldn’t shoot straight. They also couldn’t make layups. The team shot just 32 percent overall, including 23 percent from three and just 37 percent around the rim.
• Utah had a six-point lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but lost it after Terrence Ross led the Magic to 41 points in the fourth. Orlando had scored only 33 points in the entire first half.
• A sellout crowd of 20,011 largely first-time NBA game attendees made the atmosphere a unique experience in Mexico City.