At Tuesday’s practice at the Zions Bank Basketball Campus, Jazz coach Quin Snyder was asked if the team’s defense had regressed enough during its four-game losing streak that it was almost back to square one.
Snyder smiled, acknowledged there were challenges to be faced and specific scenarios to be addressed, then reminded the frothing masses presently concerned the team has now revealed itself to be deeply flawed and destined to underachieve that such setbacks as this are hardly unprecedented.
“That’s the ebb and flow of an NBA season,” he said. “That’s the goal, to continually get better. And as you play against better teams, the things that you are able to do get harder.”
Yes, this stretch is a low point, especially in the wake of having won 19 of their previous 21 games. But, as Snyder mentioned, the Jazz have been here before.
A four-game losing streak in the preseason had fans convinced the decision to seek more balance between offense and defense in the construction of the roster had gone terribly awry. And that, of course, was small potatoes next to the four-losses-in-five-games stretch in late November where the team was beaten by the Bucks and outright manhandled by the Pacers, Raptors and Sixers — yet more apparent definitive proof that the pendulum had swung too far to shot-making, and that this group would not amount to much.
Many of those assertions, of course, did not age well, while the memories of them were subsequently effectively obfuscated beneath the warm afterglow of a 10-game winning streak.
Conversely, the coach maintained he and his players had not forgotten the early stumbles. Asked if the timing of getting quick rematches against the likes of Denver, Portland, Houston and Dallas was ideal, considering the Jazz have been working these recent days to address the deficiencies those teams exposed, Snyder replied that every beatdown endured had provided lingering motivation for continued improvement.
“Anytime you can still feel the pain of lack of execution or not having success in a given situation, it allows you to focus more. And by the same token, you’ve got to do it better. If you don’t do it better, it can be something that knocks you back a little bit,” he said. “… We were overwhelmed against Philadelphia and their physicality — and that’s something that our guys remember. We had a 40-point quarter [allowed] earlier in the year against the Clippers where we couldn’t get a defensive rebound — that puts it in the front of your mind.”
Beyond that, he and a couple of players added, some of Utah’s lack of success in recent games stems from the simple fact that it was the Jazz’s first time playing some of their opponents this season, which bred a lack of readiness for their uniqueness.
That said, the players weren’t letting themselves off the hook that easily.
After all, it wasn’t just the newness of the opposition that defined Utah’s increasingly sporadic defensive play.
When queried what had changed on that end of late, Rudy Gobert initially responded, “I think it just hasn’t been good.”
Eventually, he would delve into specifics, such as declining physicality, waning focus helping to spur opponents’ extended scoring runs, and a lack of cohesion between himself and the team’s perimeter defenders in guarding so-called five-out attacks that draw him away from the rim with a shooting-capable center.
“The way our defense is set up, I’m usually always there behind to protect the guys. When I’ve got a shooting big, everyone has to do a little more,” Gobert said. “I have to be more focused on not overhelping and giving space to my guy, and at the same time, help when it’s my turn to help. And the guys need to make sure they don’t get beat one-on-one so easily, so we’re able to have a rotation and we’re able to play our defense.”
Joe Ingles, meanwhile, noted “it’s smart by them — they wanna get Rudy away from the rim, given how effective he is down there,” and said the onus was on he and his teammates to step up their efforts and not lose perimeter containment as easily as they have been.
“The other four out there, we’ve got to do a better job, and if Rudy’s spaced or low or wherever he is, overall as a team just do a better job of containing the ball, and make them beat us by keeping the ball in front of us,” Ingles said.
In that respect, he proved to be a bit anti-Iversonian in acknowledging how much two consecutive days of practice have helped in that regard.
Simply getting out on the practice court and running through some of the schemes and concepts in person has been invaluable in his estimation.
“As great as games are, it is nice to practice sometimes. The way teams have been playing small ball, and a different kind of style, it’s been nice for us to get out here and work on some things that are hard to work on just by watching film,” Ingles said. “It’s great to watch film, but sometimes it’s nice to go through it five-on-five and get more of a feel. It’s obviously something we needed to improve and work on.”
Because with the Nuggets in town Wednesday night, and the Blazers, Mavericks, Rockets, Heat, Spurs and Rockets up again right afterward, the Jazz will need to figure things out sooner rather than later.
In that respect, Ingles said the team would actually do well to behave as though one of those early fan concerns was, in fact, correct.
“We’ve always relied on our defense since I’ve been here, and I think it’s something we need to get back to,” he said. “Not that I think we went into games trying to outscore people, but we knew how well and how easy we were playing offensively that it’s just kind of flowing for us. We definitely just need to get back to that defensive mindset.”
JAZZ VS. NUGGETS
At Vivint SmartHome Arena
Tipoff • Wednesday, 7 p.m.
TV • ATTSN
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 32-17; Nuggets 34-16
Last meeting • Nuggets, 106-100 (Jan. 30)
About the Jazz • Utah lost all three games on its recent road trip and has dropped four straight overall. … The Jazz led for much if their previous matchup between the teams, but were undone by a 27-1 run spanning the third and fourth quarters. … Center Rudy Gobert is fifth in the NBA with 4.2 second-chance points per game.
About the Nuggets • Denver will be on the second night of a back-to-back after facing Portland on Tuesday night. … Center Nikola Jokic ranks 14th in the league in assists, with 6.7 per game. … The Nuggets have 20 “clutch” wins this season — the second-most in the league behind the Thunder’s 21.