Wednesday night’s 108-98 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans perfectly sums up the plight of the Utah Jazz.
Without Rudy Gobert, and with Donovan Mitchell representing Utah’s only consistent scoring threat, the Jazz are a team with no margin for error. If everything is working smoothly on a given night, the Jazz can beat anyone in the NBA.
But if the Jazz miss even one more shot than usual, or give a shoddy defensive effort, or run into a difficult matchup, victories are hard to come by. This is why they are 16-22 on the season, and have lost 11 of their past 14 games.
For Utah to notch wins, it has to play perfect basketball — which, frankly, is not possible for all 82 games in a season.
“Other teams, they have two superstars they can rely on. Not saying our guys aren’t talented, but other teams can get away with certain things,” Mitchell said. “We have to play with extra energy and we have to play with an assertiveness that we didn’t play with tonight. We did at points, but not the whole game.”
The Pelicans are one of the most difficult matchups in the league for the Jazz, especially without Gobert, because Anthony Davis and Demarcus Cousins are both difficult to guard in the post and on the perimeter. Davis scored a game-high 29 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, while Cousins had 19 points and 11 rebounds.
But the Jazz defensively also didn’t shut off the 3-point line, as New Orleans went 14 of 30 from beyond the arc. The Jazz didn’t play well offensively, shooting 45 percent overall and just 21 percent from 3-point range. And Utah was outrebounded, allowing the Pelicans 17 second-chance points. Add to that how much of a headache Jrue Holiday was for the Jazz to guard, scoring 24 points, while grabbing six rebounds and handing out five assists.
“We didn’t hit shots, but they outplayed us,” Jazz guard Rodney Hood said. “They were really physical tonight, and that wore us down. We played lethargic, I was very lethargic tonight, and as a team we just need to do a better of fighting through that.”
Through all of that, the Jazz still had an opportunity to win down the stretch. They trailed by as many as 13 points in the second half, but pulled within 84-81 with eight minutes remaining after two free throws by Alec Burks.
But the Pelicans immediately responded with a 7-0 run to take a 91-81 advantage and retake control of a game they dominated for most of the second half. New Orleans played pick-and-roll basketball with Davis, and he either hit jumpers or drove to the basket. If that didn’t work, the Pelicans dumped the ball into Cousins. He either went to work on the block, or found teammates open for easy 3-point looks.
“This was an important win for us,” Davis said. “We owe these guys from the last time (a 114-108 Jazz win on Dec. 1). We lost two in a row, and we just wanted to make sure that we came out and started this road trip right.”
Utah received 24 points from Mitchell and 20 points from Joe Johnson, the best offensive performance of the season from the veteran forward. Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors scored 11 points each.
But the Jazz are losing ground in the playoff race. They are 3 1/2 games behind the Pelicans for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, and 11th in the West overall.
“That’s a tough matchup,” Favors said. “Davis and Cousins are good players and that’s a good team. We just have to be better next time.”