After hectic early schedule, the Utah Jazz finally get some time to practice

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45), Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale (23) and Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles (2) celebrate as the Utah Jazz defeated the Golden State Warriors, 114-106, Dec. 13, 2019 at Vivint Arena.

If practice makes perfect, as the saying goes, what does the lack of practice make?

Things have certainly been short of perfect for the Jazz in recent weeks. They went 1-4 on a five-game road trip, the longest of the season, before heading back home for some losses (Lakers, Thunder) and some sketchy wins against poor opposition (Grizzlies, Timberwolves, Warriors).

In the hectic stretch, they’ve rarely had the chance to go all out with a full practice. With only one day off between games, frequently the team will do a “pro day” where players come in for individual or small group work. Other times, they’ve practiced, but always with the next day’s game in mind — they don’t want the players to be exhausted before the game even begins. Frequently, they’ve had to travel between cities.

So this three-day stretch without a game, between Friday’s win against the Warriors and Tuesday’s matchup against the Orlando Magic, was a rare opportunity for the team. First, they gave everyone a day off on Saturday — a “lockout” day, where players were encouraged not to come in to the Jazz’s practice facility, in order to give them a break.

“There’s a mental component, I think, to having a lockout day,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said.

Then, on Sunday and Monday came two days of thorough practice. “For our group right now, you know, even though we’re a good chunk into the year, we’re still forming the habits that we need to win,” Snyder said.

At the top of that list of habits was a focus on transition defense, which Snyder said was the No. 1 issue preventing the Jazz from being the defensive team they want to be. After several seasons among the top three defenses in the league, the Jazz are just 11th right now. At times, they’ve jogged back, and at others, they haven’t communicated about who is guarding who in transition, meaning that someone ends up wide open.

“Well, we were fourth after 10 games” in transition defense, Snyder pointed out. “So whatever it is we were doing, it was pretty good.”

But as the team tried to address the offensive issues, Snyder said some of the focus went away from the defensive side of the ball. “When you’re training new habits, it takes more focus to do that."

Mike Conley is one of those guys learning new habits, integrating on both ends. He practiced with the team for the first time since experiencing hamstring tightness this weekend. Conley, who is probable to play in Tuesday’s game, appreciated the chance to get back in the swing of things with practices, rather than having to jump back into action with a game.

“Mike Conley helps, that’s kind of goes without saying," Snyder said. “I think his presence can impact the game in a lot of ways.”

And after learning about their failures, and working on them, the team is now eager to get back to games at Vivint Arena to show off their improvement.


At Vivint Smart Home Arena

Tipoff • Tuesday, 7 p.m.

TV • AT&T SportsNet

Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM

Records • Jazz 15-11; Magic 12-14

Last meeting • Jazz, 106-93 (Jan. 9)

About the Jazz • Mike Conley is listed as probable after missing five consecutive games due to hamstring tightness. ... Jazz injury report is otherwise clean. ... Donovan Mitchell’s scoring is up in 2019-20 (25.0 points per game compared to 23.8 in 2018-19), but his assists are down (3.7 per game compared to 4.2 in 2019-20).

About the Magic • Al-Farouq Aminu is out due to a torn meniscus. ... former Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin is an assistant for the Magic under head coach Steve Clifford. ... Magic have had three losing streaks of three games or more this season, and two winning streaks of three games or more.

“It’s kind of 50/50, because you obviously want to play and want to play games and compete in them. But we’ve had two or three more days to practice to get kind of more connected on the court,” Joe Ingles said. “It’s been good.”