Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 112-107 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Jazz defense not good enough as Lakers get inside for win
Some ugly numbers from Sunday night’s loss:
The Lakers led the Jazz in points in the paint tonight by a margin of 64-48.
The Jazz allowed the Lakers to get 16 offensive rebounds — so soon after I wrote about their league-leading defensive rebounding, too. That’s not brilliant.
In the end, the Lakers got 55 of their shots within 14 feet, making 32 of them. The percentage is okayish there, but the number of shots isn’t, really.
It was just a lot of plays on which the Jazz were a beat or two late, a step or two slow. Like, this layup from early in the game:
I think it’s a miscommunication in transition for the Jazz: Royce O’Neale thinks he has to step out on Mike Muscala, but Jae Crowder’s getting there too. That leaves Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to slip to the rim for the easy basket.
Here, Ekpe Udoh defends the pick and roll, but doesn’t make sure the ball-handling threat is taken care of before taking a step away. That leaves Alex Caruso with an easy layup.
Grayson Allen thinks the high screen is coming, so he tries to make it harder on his man by going up top. Unfortunately, that leaves the cut to the rim wide open.
Finally, this is a weird play by Thabo Sefolosha and Donovan Mitchell: they switch the screen for some reason, then Sefolosha just gets beat because he’s not even standing in front of Caruso. Nor does Mitchell really stop Caruso on his way to the rim.
I don’t know how much to be worried about these kinds of plays. On the healthy Jazz, Allen and Udoh aren’t going to get minutes, and Sefolosha would only get a few. But on the other hand, it showed that the Jazz did get really sloppy tonight at times, and usually, that’s something that impacts the whole team, not just a few players. It’s something to watch in the last couple of games, anyway.
2. Shoot the ball, please!
These kinds of plays drive me a little bit crazy.
Sefolosha gets the ball in the corner with just a few seconds left on the shot clock. It’s a good closeout by Caruso, but it still seems like Sefolosha should take shot shot or attack the basket. Instead, he pumpfakes to no result, then has to kick it to Mitchell. Mitchell, too, has an opportunity to shoot, with only 3.5 seconds left on the shot clock. It’s even more imperative that he does something with it, and he doesn’t.
Or this one: Mitchell sets it up really well, finding Allen in the corner. Allen doesn’t have a man within 10 feet, but doesn’t even consider shooting, instead immediately swinging it to Joe Ingles. Then Ingles, also wide open, swings it to Crowder, who I think hits the backboard before the rim on this shot.
Those were two separate problems. Allen has to confidently take that shot on, realizing that he’s wide open and the corner three is usually the easier shot. And Ingles, also open, has to know an open shot for him is more valuable than an open shot for Crowder.
It’s hard, because you want the Jazz to be unselfish and pass the ball around for the best shot. But when the clock is running short, or you get a wide-open corner three or Ingles three, there’s not going to be a better shot in that possession. Let it fly.
3. The Portland/Denver debacle, and where the Jazz stand
It would have been so, so nice for the Jazz if Denver was able to head up to Portland and get a victory. After all, such a result would have pushed the Blazers to just a one-win margin, and had the Jazz been able to win in L.A., they could have controlled their own destiny regarding home-court advantage in the first round. Maybe even better, it would have nearly guaranteed a Portland matchup, which seems to be nicer for the Jazz than playing Houston in the first round. In many ways, the Blazers/Nuggets game was more important for the Jazz than the one they were playing in.
Unfortunately, Denver had done their own math: they are awful against the Rockets. They are 1-10 against them in the last three seasons. So they decided that they’re willing to do anything in order to try to get the Rockets on the other side of the bracket, including, it turns out, tanking a game against the Blazers.
So they rested Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap, and Jamal Murray, starting a B lineup while Portland played their best. Remarkably, this wasn’t enough: the Denver backups had a 7-point lead with 4:33 to play. So then the C-lineup Nuggets gave up a 16-1 Blazers run and got killed in the final minutes as the Nuggets sat even their B-lineup guys on the bench.
This is somewhat of a crazy gambit by the Nuggets: they are willing to risk going down to the 3 seed, giving up home-court advantage in the second round, in order to keep open the possibility that the Rockets would end up No. 4. That scenario seems pretty likely: it’s that the Blazers win their final two games — against the Lakers and Kings — while the Rockets win only one of their last two — they play the Suns and the Thunder.
Meanwhile, the Jazz’s outcome is maddeningly out of their own hands. If the Blazers win one of their last two, the Jazz are locked out of fourth. On the other hand, they can only tank their way to 6th with significant help from the teams below them, and even that strategy would still rely on other results to make it possible.
I thought this tweet neatly illustrated the wackiness of the West: