After losing three in a row and five of six against some of the league’s top teams — such as the Bucks, Pacers, Raptors, Sixers and Lakers — the Utah Jazz got back on the winning track Saturday against the struggling Grizzlies.
Thing is, Utah’s upcoming schedule is fairly loaded with struggling teams, providing the Jazz a chance to continue to sort out some of their lingering issues while simultaneously putting some notches in the win column.
Of their 10 remaining games in December, only two — in Miami against the Heat on Dec. 23, and in Los Angeles vs. the Clippers on Dec. 28 — are against teams with winning records at the moment.
A DECEMBER GIFT?
Of Utah’s 10 games left to play this month, just two are against teams above .500 right now (records through Saturday’s games):
Monday • vs. Thunder (10-12)
Wednesday • at Timberwolves (10-12)
Friday • vs. Warriors (5-19)
Dec. 17 • vs. Magic (11-11)
Dec. 19 • at Hawks (6-17)
Dec. 21 • at Hornets (9-16)
Dec. 23 • at Heat (17-6)
Dec. 26 • vs. Trail Blazers (9-15)
Dec. 28 • at Clippers (17-7)
Dec. 30 • vs. Pistons (9-14)
Which is not to say they’ll take anyone lightly, but the Jazz also recognize that this stretch represents a potential opportunity to climb their way back up the standings.
“We’re not looking to disrespect nobody, or looking at them as lesser competition. We’ve been struggling ourselves,” said guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who racked up 11 points and seven assists off the bench Saturday. “So we gotta focus on ourselves and not worry about what everybody else is going through. We’ve got to focus on within this locker room. And that’s what we’ve been doing.”
After overcoming a shaky start to eventually roll past Memphis, the atmosphere around the team was clearly more light-hearted than it has been in some time.
Jeff Green was the recipient of the team’s patented postgame, on-court “water bottle celebration.” In the locker room, Donovan Mitchell and Royce O’Neale catcalled Mudiay during his interview with the assembled media. Mitchell and Joe Ingles both threw some good-natured trash talk Green’s way, the former lamenting his loss of athleticism after doinking an alley-oop off the rim, the latter sarcastically complimenting him for actually swishing 3-pointers instead of airballing them.
In spite of the joviality, though, there was nevertheless a recognition that there’s plenty of improvement yet to make.
Mitchell was particularly frustrated after committing seven of the team’s 22 turnovers — which led to 33 of Memphis’ points — and with the sporadic defense.
“Well, we gotta stop turning the ball over. We gotta get back in transition,” he said. “… Giving up  points, that’s too much. That’s pretty much what we’re looking at.”
The interconnectivity of the offensive miscues and the defensive woes was on Rudy Gobert’s mind, as well.
Utah allowed 36 points in the first quarter (when it committed six turnovers), 30 in the third (five TOs) and 28 in the fourth (eight TOs). Meanwhile, the Jazz committed just three turnovers in the pivotal second quarter, when Memphis shot just 7 for 19 and scored only 18 points.
The two-time Defensive Player of the Year said that limiting the miscues and dialing up the physicality would solve a lot of the Jazz’s problems.
“We had some breakdowns defensively; once that happened, we knew what they were, which is a good sign. The next step is to take those away,” Gobert said. “When we turn the ball over, it’s really hard for us to run back on D and set our defense. If we take that away, we’ll be in great shape.”
So, can the Jazz actually follow through in this upcoming stretch, which includes such teams as the Thunder, Timberwolves, Warriors, Magic, Hawks, Hornets and Heat?
Ingles, who amassed 12 points, 10 assists, and four steals, reiterated that Utah can’t afford to take anyone lightly.
“I think we’ve always struggled more in games we’re ‘supposed to win’ over the years that I’ve been here, the games that we’re ‘penciled in’ to win, or whatever you call it,” he said at the pregame shootaround. “So yeah, we’re just trying to get our minds right.”
O’Neale didn’t think that would be a problem.
“We don’t look at no records,” he said simply.
Green said that so long as the Jazz treat the win over the Grizzlies as a starting point for what’s to come, rather than as some kind of accomplishment in and of itself, they’ll be on the right track.
“We’ve just got to continue to build on [Saturday’s] win. We’ve got a good team coming in on Monday in OKC. They’ve been playing well,” he said. “We gotta get back to it tomorrow and regroup and take some positives into Monday and do the same.”
JAZZ VS. THUNDER
At Vivint Smart Home Arena
Tipoff • Monday, 7 p.m.
TV • ATTSN
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 13-10; Thunder 10-12
Last meeting • Jazz, 100-95 (Oct. 23)
About the Jazz • Snapped a three-game losing streak Saturday night vs. Memphis, in which the team shot 57% overall, 56% from 3, and had seven players score in double-figures. … Utah ranks fourth in the league in 3-point shooting (38.5%), but has slipped all the way to 11th in defensive rating (105.1). … In the teams’ first meeting, in their season-opener, Donovan Mitchell scored 32 points to rally the Jazz back in the fourth quarter.
About the Thunder • Oklahoma City will be on the latter half of a back-to-back set after beating the Trail Blazers 108-96 on Sunday night in Portland. … The Thunder are in the middle of the pack in the league in both offensive rating (107.5; 15th) and defensive rating (108.1; 15th). … Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander lead the team in scoring, with 18.6 ppg apiece.