Los Angeles • After putting up a ton of points in the preseason, then struggling to the century mark in the season opener against the Thunder, the Jazz came into the follow-up on Friday against the Lakers with a definite idea of what needed to improve.
“Mike Conley shot 1 for 16!” Jeff Green deadpanned pregame, enunciating the name loudly for the benefit of the point guard, who was sitting mere feet away in the cramped visitors’ locker room at the Staples Center.
After Conley reciprocated with a mock death stare, Green burst out laughing.
“I mean, we won,” Green elaborated. “You have ugly games, and we had one of those.”
Fair enough. Which isn’t to say there weren’t factors that couldn’t be improved beyond Conley shooting better than 6.3% per game.
Coach Quin Snyder initially reached into his bag of Duke law school tricks, arguing the idea of “offensive improvement” was overly broad, before ultimately delving into a few specific areas of focus.
“How quickly is Rudy rolling? Are we settling for too many floaters and not working harder to get more 3-point looks? Are we running? We didn’t really run and get out in transition — we did for a certain stretch of the game; Emmanuel did an excellent job of that,” he said. “Sometimes you do it well once, and three times you don’t do it well. So can we do it well half the time? That’s kind of the nature of the beast as far as it comes to getting better.”
So, did the Jazz get better?
Well, again, it was a lot more of one right, three wrong.
Things looked promising at the start, as the Jazz made 5 of their first 7 shots. After that … well, not so much. Among Snyder’s three points:
• Gobert was, indeed, having success rolling to the rim. On an early play, he lulled JaVale McGee into believing he was stepping out to set a screen for Joe Ingles, only to cut to the hoop, get the pass, and throw down his second dunk. He was a rare first-half bright spot offensively, making 3 of 5 shots.
• The long-range shooting was problematic again. After making 6 of 24 vs. the Thunder, Utah was on an exactly similar pace in the opening half against L.A., making only 3 of 12 attempts.
• And as for the running — something Conley also mentioned as a priority — two transition buckets late in the final minutes of the second quarter got Utah up to eight fast-break points by halftime. Considering Utah totaled 18 vs. OKC, that doesn’t really count as progress.
“I think if we can run, push the tempo a little bit more, we can get a little easier baskets, a better rhythm, a better flow,” Conley said. “Sometimes we get a little bit slower and we walk the ball up the floor and get set into things. We don’t necessarily have to do that every time.”
Again, against the Lakers, the Jazz were hurt early by slowing the pace and taking too long to get into offensive sets.
Meanwhile, getting back to that fourth factor — you know, the one that Green was joking about — Conley figuring out his shot certainly wouldn’t hurt. He went 0 for 5 in the first half against the Lakers.