It was just a week ago that the Utah Jazz had won 19 of their past 21 games and were being widely acclaimed as the hottest team in the league.
One week and four losses later, and that hot streak seems practically forever ago.
But is it a momentary blip not to be overreacted to, or indicative of some fundamental flaws in need of immediate rectification?
That’s a good question.
“There’s no panic,” point guard Mike Conley noted after Saturday night’s loss in Portland. “… We understand that we’re at the point of the season where we’re a few weeks before All-Star break, and it’s time to ramp up. You wanna try to go into All-Star break playing really well. So we’ve got a couple days of practice coming up — just learn from tonight, learn from the film.”
There may not be panic, but there was palpable frustration in the Moda Center visitors’ locker room.
Most players showered and dressed quickly before heading to the bus to catch the team’s charter flight home. All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell, though, made his annoyance with the team’s latest lackluster defensive performance pretty obvious.
Asked if it could be attributed to the Jazz being tired, he tersely noted that Utah had the night before off, while the Blazers battled to an emotional win on Friday in Los Angeles — the night the Lakers celebrated the legacy of Kobe Bryant.
“We’ve gotta be able to adjust on the fly. … They had a back-to-back. They played last night — late. So we just gotta be able to figure it out. And we’ll do that,” he said. “We’ll come in and practice and be ready and we’ll do what we need to do to get ready for Denver [this Wednesday].”
Most of what they need to do involves shoring up the perimeter defense.
It’s one thing for Damian Lillard to take it to them; he is, after all, torching the entire league at present. His 51-point outing vs. Utah was the third time in his past six games that he’s reaching the 50-point threshold. In that span, he’s averaging 48.8 points and 10.2 assists.
But it’s another for the Spurs’ DeMar DeRozan to go virtually unchecked in the midrange en route to 38 points, let alone for the Rockets’ Eric Gordon to drop a 50-spot of his own on them.
As a result, the Jazz have allowed at least 124 points in three of those four losses.
“You know, we haven’t contained the ball like we want to,” said coach Quin Snyder. “The Houston game, the perimeter needed to be further out. I think the perimeter defense against San Antonio was actually … they had a historic midrange night, so they weren’t necessarily getting to the rim. But we haven’t done as good a job as I think we want to do containing the ball.”
Indeed, there have been rampant mistakes on the outside, in terms of coordinating switches, in terms of communicating where and how to funnel opposing attackers, in terms of adherence to principles.
Part of the the problem, Snyder said, is a lack of familiarity with some recent opponents, as the Jazz just got their first looks of the season at the Mavericks, Rockets, Spurs and Nuggets. However, he added, it goes without saying that adjustments must and will be made.
“Seeing certain teams for the first time of the year — you can tell someone that someone’s fast, but until you get out there, ‘Oh! It’s that fast!’” he said. “… As a coach, you try to identify ways you can help your players. Obviously, we’d like to play better defense, and there’s stretches where that happens. As much as anything, it’s how you respond to it.”
Mitchell believes it could be as simple as improving on-court communication — an early season issue — once again.
“Talking, communicating — we’re not doing it together,” he said. “It’s nothing selfish, it’s nothing like that. It happens. The great teams, the team we’re trying to be, it happens [for] one game, it doesn’t happen four straight. That’s the biggest thing.”