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Jazz’s post-All Star Game slump has national NBA pundits jumping off the Utah bandwagon

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) rounds the defense of Houston Rockets forward P.J. Tucker (17). The Utah Jazz host the Houston Rockets at Vivint Arena, Feb. 22, 2020.

“What a disaster of a week for the Jazz,” The Athletic’s Zach Harper wrote.

Harper didn’t know the half of it.

That line came in Harper’s weekly NBA power rankings, published last Monday after the Jazz lost to San Antonio and Houston at home, but before the losses to the Suns and the Celtics. Yes, they got one back against the Wizards on Friday to avoid the ignominy of going winless in a five-game homestand, but the term disaster certainly still qualifies.

The Jazz’s downturn has meant that national analysts are jumping off the bandwagon, even those who were most optimistic about the Jazz’s chances at the beginning of the season. That’s pretty logical, given that home-court advantage in the first round looks unlikely.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe has been clear on his point of view — the Jazz lack an identity. “Identity in the NBA is ethereal and fragile — a ‘you know it when you see it’ collective knowledge that can slip from you with the slightest disruption,” he wrote. “The Jazz don’t have it right now.”

Lowe went on to note that the Jazz are stuck offensively in two minds, sometimes going with their whirling system of screens and passes, and sometimes eschewing it for simpler plays with their more talented stars. But defensively, it’s even worse. Where the Jazz used to be a solid transition defense team, they’ve been run ragged off the floor in these losses.

Utah’s relative dearth of wins over the NBA’s elite teams has some national commentators tuning out right now. As Moore wrote, “To be a contender you have to show SOME capability against the good teams.” They’re only 3-7 against the top four teams in the West.

Nearly every player has been criticized. Bojan Bogdanovic has drawn ire mainly for his lack of defensive impact. “A critical miscalculation, really on everyone’s part, was relying on that 2018 Pacers-Cavs series as a reason to buy in on Bogdanovic’s defense. It’s been two years. He’s fallen off a cliff on that end,” Moore wrote. Rudy Gobert’s struggles, especially against the Rockets, continued the narrative — based in reality — that he makes less of an impact against small teams that like to switch on defense.

“Are they putting too much pressure on Gobert to just defend the whole team and get every rebound? And I think some of those questions are starting to come to light,” The Athletic’s John Hollinger said on Lowe’s podcast.

Mike Conley is one of the most well-liked players in the NBA by the media, and there seems to be real confusion on why he’s struggled this season. “The Jazz not being able to figure out how to get Mike Conley going is something I just never saw coming at all,” Steve Jones Jr. tweeted. And Hollinger also joked that “It’s like they have a rule. They can only have one left handed player be good in the same game. When when Conley is good, [Joe] Ingles is not. When Ingles is good, Conley is not.”

The midweek back-and-forth of the starting lineup was also baffling to most. Nearly everyone understood moving Royce O’Neale off the bench; for example, here’s SB Nation’s Mike Prada before the swap: “I know Royce O’Neale is a bit small. I know his shot has deserted him recently. I know teams’ll leave him open in the playoffs. But he’s a key Jazz wheel-greaser who makes them better on both ends with his movement and defensive tenacity + versatility. He should be starting.”

But when Conley was initially told he’d be the one who was benched, before Snyder decided it would be Ingles instead, it drew real derision, both for the optics of the move and the decision itself. “Messy,” “roller coaster," and “WELP” were among the quick reactions, but there were more substantive replies, too.

“Whether to regret trading for Conley is irrelevant at this point. The Jazz need to worry about compounding that apparent mistake by sticking with him when it’s not working. Regret the trade or not. Don’t regret withholding your best starting lineup, too,” Tom Ziller wrote.

Lowe agreed: “I’m skeptical that shifting Joe Ingles to the bench — as Utah did in Thursday’s loss to Boston — is the answer.”

Whatever the answer is, national commentators are asking for it soon. Or as Harper wrote, “This team has to decide if it’s serious about making a deep playoff run. The excuses don’t really fly right now.”

“The best version of Utah is a good, threatening team,” Lowe argued. “They are running out of time to find it.”

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