With Wednesday night’s 126-118 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, the Utah Jazz wrapped their preseason with a lackluster 1-4 record (0-4 against NBA competition) and plenty of intriguing issues to sort through in the week off before the regular season begins.
Namely: Is the defense really a train wreck? Is the offense really a juggernaut? And just how long will it take to get everyone really adjusted to one another?
Answers were not immediately forthcoming afterward, but accountability for getting things turned around was in abundant supply.
“It’s a good thing that we want to keep getting better. That’s a great thing. The preseason record — nobody cares about it, to be honest,” said center Rudy Gobert. “The most important thing is the way we play. And I know we [didn’t] play the way we wanna play. Maybe everyone thought it was gonna be easy — we signed a few guys, we’ve got a few guys who are gone, and we think everything’s going to be great. But that’s not how it works.”
It was all up in the air against a Portland team whose sharpshooting backcourt of C.J. McCollum (28 points; 11-15 FGs) and Damian Lillard (25 points; 8-13 FGs) tortured Utah all night long.
The Blazers hit 7 of 10 shots to start the game, and 12 of their first 15, and honestly didn’t cool down too much thereafter (they finished at 57.8% for the game), prompting questions of whether the Jazz have completely lost their way on that end, or were simply the victims of one of the league’s elite shooting duos.
An argument could be made that, aside from the 38-point opening quarter they yielded, when Portland was treated to a lifetime supply of open looks, the Jazz’s defense actually wasn’t particularly terrible. Not great, by any means, but not terrible.
Does that count as progress? Probably not.
“We just gotta be better defensively. It’s that simple. It’s just a matter of finding a way to do it. We can say it as much as we want — we’ve said it after three different games — but we just gotta go out there and do it,” Utah guard Donovan Mitchell said. “Fortunately, it is preseason, and we have time to work on it, but we gotta go out and do it.”
On the other end, Utah mostly continued to display the hoped-for offensive firepower that sprung from its offseason overhaul, as the team eclipsed the 30-point mark in each of the first, second, and fourth quarters, and got big scoring efforts from its own stellar backcourt, as Mitchell racked up 27 points (22 of them in the first half), and Mike Conley added 20.
The only real blip on that end of the court came in the third period, when they shot 5 for 20 and totaled just 21 points.
As for all those new faces, well that was a mixed bag.
Conley, as mentioned, looked solid in changing speeds and getting into the lane. His presence in the lineup late in the third staved off — however momentarily — the oncoming blowout.
Bojan Bogdanovic, on the other hand, wrapped up his nightmarish exhibition performance with another rough game. Looking for all the world like he simply is not yet comfortable with Quin Snyder’s schemes, Bogey shot 0 for 9 overall, 0 for 5 for deep, and posted the throw-it-in-the-trash-bin line of one point, one assist and zero rebounds, steals, or blocks, in 25 minutes, 3 seconds of court time.
“No matter how many shots I make,” he said afterward, “I gotta be more productive on the boards, I’ve got to be more productive with the ball, I’ve got to play without any hesitation — whether I score or not.”
Elsewhere, Emmanuel Mudiay displayed some flashes of scoring ability, totaling 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, though his ability to run the offense remains to be seen. Jeff Green added eight off the bench, and again showed off incredible athleticism on both ends, including an up-and-under contorting layup, and a chase-down block.
As for stalwarts Royce O’Neale and Joe Ingles, they continued to excel in their new roles — O’Neale displaying previously unseen passing savvy in a starting forward role, and Jingles keeping things going smoothly while initiating the offense with the second unit. The former totaled seven points, six rebounds and two assists as a drive-and-kick penetrator, while the latter racked up 12 points while hitting 4 of 5 from deep.
Still, no one was much in the mood to accentuate the positive afterward — other than to espouse the belief that this group will figure things out.
“I think it’s good that we had these kind of games going into the regular season,” Conley said. “… It allows us to understand that not everything’s sweet, it’s not gonna be easy. We gotta go work for it.”
Snyder was of a like mind that keeping the level of work high is paramount.
“Sometimes when you put time into something and you work at it, you kind of have an expectation — ‘I did this, I bought my ticket, now I get to turn it in and go on the ride.’ It doesn’t work like that. You gotta keep investing, keep investing,” he said. “… We’ve got some adversity in the preseason, which is unusual. But that’s what it is, and in a sense, that’s good. You get a chance to get a very honest, transparent look at where we are, and we don’t want to be where we are. We want to be better.”
TRAIL BLAZERS 126, JAZZ 118
• Utah finishes the preseason with a 1-4 mark (0-4 vs. NBA competition) after surrendering another big opening quarter.
• Portland shoots 57.8% overall, and 55.6% from 3-point range for the game.
• The Jazz fall behind for good in a third quarter where they hit only 5 of 20 shots.