Rockets hand lethargic Jazz second loss in a row, 120-110

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) hits the net. The Utah Jazz host the Houston Rockets at Vivint Arena, Feb. 22, 2020.

Following Friday night’s loss to the Spurs, there was much discussion from the Jazz afterwards afterwards about their lack of focus and urgency, about the need to play with more intensity and physicality, to be ready to bring it from the outset.

And then in Saturday night’s loss 120-110 to the Rockets, it was apparent that not much had changed.

Rudy Gobert spent so much time arguing a noncall with an official that James Harden ran right by him for a layup-and-one. Utah came out so unfocused to start the second half that Houston opened with a 14-3 blitz that put them ahead for good. Royce O’Neale was beaten on a straight-line drive to the rim by Eric Gordon for another and-one.

And so on and so on.

While the Jazz had their moments in the game, they were ultimately too infrequent, too sporadic. The 20-6 run in the second quarter to push the team ahead was not only necessary because of another lackluster start to the game, it was also eventually rendered irrelevant by a return to the lethargic play that preceded it.

“In the third quarter, we didn’t have the same energy we needed on the defensive end,” said coach Quin Snyder. “We didn’t get our hands on balls, we didn’t get deflections. We fouled once, which tells you a little bit about our [lack of] aggressiveness.”

Utah couldn’t do a whole lot to contain Houston’s All-Star backcourt for much of the night — James Harden finishing with 38 points thanks to his usual step-back 3-point brilliance augmented by some nice Eurostep drives; Russell Westbrook working the midrange to the tune of 34 points.

Neither were the Jazz terribly effective in limiting Houston’s 3-point looks. Houston set the tone by drilling 8 of 9 to start the game — some of which, admittedly, came on closely-guarded shots, though others were generated when confusion on the perimeter produced a missed rotation and an unencumbered view of the rim.

The Rockets wound up hitting 20 of 48 shots (41.7%) from deep for the game.

“We had a few slippages, and that leads to them hitting 3s, [us] missing rotations,” said Donovan Mitchell. “… Against that team, you gotta be locked in. … You can play hard, but you gotta play smart as well. I think that’s something we did a good job of, but we had lapses. That was the biggest thing.”

Meanwhile, though Utah was brilliant itself scoring the ball in the first half, it took the team entirely too long to adjust to the Rockets’ own post-halftime adjustments.

Before the break, the Jazz were attacking the rim with impunity, to the tune of 36 first-half points in the paint. Jordan Clarkson was particularly effective, getting downhill time and again en route to 20 first-half points.

However, once the Rockets cut off the lanes to the hoop in the third quarter, Utah had no answer — its own indecisiveness on how to attack producing a 6-for-19 shooting performance in the third period.

Houston, meanwhile, made 16 of 25 shots in that same 12-minute stretch, effectively putting the game too far out of reach.

“Our energy was low in the third quarter. We didn’t come out with the same energy that we left the first half with,” said Mike Conley. “In the second quarter, we really got the crowd involved, pushed the tempo, played defense, did all the things that kind of got us in the game. And when we came out in the third quarter, we just seemed to not have that same energy.”

The Jazz regained a bit of it in the fourth, mounting yet another spirited comeback attempt, but it again proved too little, too late.

Harden’s 3-pointer that put Houston up 10 with 2:09 to play pretty much slammed the door shut. After scoring 66 points in the first half, the Jazz totaled only 44 thereafter, thanks in no small part to shooting 7 of 31 (22.6%) from 3-point range on the night.

Mitchell led the Jazz with 31 points, while Clarkson added 22 (only two of which came in the second half). Conley contributed 13 points, seven assists, and seven rebounds. However, Bojan Bogdanovic had another poor shooting night, totaling 12 points on 3 for 10 from the field. And Gobert had a quiet night — stymied by Houston’s switching, smallball lineup into managing just 12 points (on 3-of-7 shooting) and six rebounds.

With its second straight loss, Utah drops to 36-20 on the season.