One streak ended and another continued on Wednesday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
Neither left Jazz fans happy.
LeBron James’ first victory in Salt Lake City in almost nine years also proved Utah’s third consecutive defeat this season, as the visiting Lakers raced past the suddenly spiraling Jazz 121-96.
Despite one of their best efforts of the season from 3-point range, the Jazz were nevertheless outshot, out-rebounded, out-assistsed, out-stolen, out-blocked, outrun, out-hustled, and — for about 42 of the game’s 48 minutes — simply out-played.
Utah fell to 12-10 on the season as a result, while the Lakers improved to 19-3.
“Right now, we’re low, to be honest with you. I’m not gonna sugarcoat it,” said forward Jeff Green. “The last six games, to me, we kind of took a couple of steps back to the progress that we had going into the beginning of that road trip.”
Counting the results of that now-infamous trip East, the Jazz have dropped five of their past six matchups.
Donovan Mitchell scored 29 points vs. the Lakers, Bojan Bogdanovic added 23 and Rudy Gobert contributed 13 points and 10 boards for the Jazz — none of which really counted for much considering L.A. took control about halfway through the first quarter and never really looked back.
James finished with 20 points, 12 assists and four rebounds, while Anthony Davis totaled 26 points (on 9-for-11 shooting) and six boards.
Just hours after the team’s morning shootaround saw Gobert stress the importance of improving their transition defense, the Jazz went out and committed 20 turnovers to L.A.’s eight, a sizable factor in the Lakers’ 32-5 advantage in fast-break points.
Asked what’s suddenly bedeviled a defensive unit that was among the league’s best for a couple of weeks, Mitchell was blunt.
“Our precision. We turned the ball over. You know, simple mistakes. Stuff that we can control,” he said. “You look at what we did at the beginning of the year — how we took care of and shared the ball — and you look at the past six games, it’s not who we are.”
Green was more blunt still about what’s gone wrong.
“S—, at this point, everything,” he replied.
Los Angeles came in tired and sick, having played in Denver the night before and apparently beset by a locker room overrun by players with colds.
But L.A.’s colds were apparently nothing compared to Utah’s cold shooting. And the Jazz’s suddenly leaky defense proved more soothing for Los Angeles than any cough drop or throat lozenge or decongestant could hope to.
The game started promisingly enough, with Bogandovic checking James on one end and drilling back-to-back 3s on the other. Trouble signs soon appeared, however.
When Joe Ingles — making a spot start for the injured Mike Conley — was whistled for a forearm shiver, his second personal in the first quarter, which sent him to the bench, the Lakers quickly took control against Utah’s beleaguered second unit, grabbing a 28-20 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
From there, Utah was hampered by a rash of missed open looks (on consecutive possessions, Mitchell drove to the hoop, only to miss the lay-in) and bewildering mistakes on the defensive end.
It was apparent in the transition discrepancy. It was apparent in L.A.’s ease in scoring down low (the Lakers boasted a 52-34 advantage in points in the paint).
Jazz coach Quin Snyder said missed shots and turnovers both yielded transition opportunities, but an equal culprit was the Jazz simply not working as hard as the Lakers did in those scenarios.
He added that peripheral distractions have detracted from the Jazz’s defensive performance of late.
“At the beginning of the year, there was a determination and a focus defensively. And it showed. More recently, we’ve allowed other things, whether it be a missed shot, the perception of a bad call, a turnover — everything’s lingered. So our inability to get to the next play, has hurt our defense,” Snyder said. “Not being collectively focused on something that requires five guys playing together. Those breakdowns can occur so many different ways, but invariably the common thread is probably some sort of miscommunication.”
Case in point was a stretch in the third quarter.
After the Jazz began the period on a 10-3 run to cut into L.A.’s lead, they turned around and saw Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope score back-to-back layups on the exact same backdoor cut in which Utah defenders blew the defensive switch in exactly the same way.
Just like that, the deficit was 18 again, and it was never close again.
“There’s not really much coach can say,” Mitchell said. “It’s really just on us in the locker room to figure it out.”
For his part, Green added that while things are decidedly not going well at the moment, he’s confident he and his teammates will get back to work and figure it out. And in the meantime, it’s important to maintain some equanimity and perspective about it all.
“The great thing about NBA is we’ve got a couple of games ahead of us that are games that we can win,” he said. “We’ve got two days to practice [before playing Memphis on Saturday], which will be great for us to get back to our roots. And, you know, we’re going to go in tomorrow and get a game plan to get better. We can’t get too down on ourselves. To me, it’s still early in the season.”