Orlando, Fla. • Saturday’s game went about as poorly as it could have for the Utah Jazz.
It’s probably not going to get any easier with the West-leading Los Angeles Lakers up next on Monday night.
So, there’s no reprieve, no opportunity to ease back into things, no chance to sit back and work out the kinks against inferior opposition. The Jazz have to figure out what went wrong against Oklahoma City and fix it fast, because they don’t have time to mess around.
“These games all mean something,” guard Mike Conley said after Saturday’s wire-to-wire blowout loss. “We all have to come out and play that way from start to finish and try to get that feeling back as you would in a normal season where you’re approaching the playoffs and trying to continue that momentum going into the biggest part of the season.”
There’s no home-court advantage on the line this season. And coach Quin Snyder has never been one to try and rig results in order to chase a favorable matchup, believing that the ultimate goal of winning a championship will necessitate defeating multiple top-level teams at some point anyway.
So then, all that leaves the Jazz with in the interim is getting themselves optimally situated on the court.
They were pretty much anything but against the Thunder.
“We lacked discipline in lots of areas. Against a team that’s pressuring you, there’s oftentimes that you have to attack, and that’s when you need spacing, you need quick decisions,” Snyder said. “Overall, we’ve got to be better, we’ve got to be tougher, we have to be stronger with the ball, we’ve also got to be more connected. All those things feed into each other. [Saturday] was not a good night for us — but credit Oklahoma City for making it that way.”
All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell agreed that the Thunder’s defensive tenacity made everything difficult.
That said, he saw plenty of opportunities for the Jazz to do something about it: aggressive closeouts should have been met with better ball movement and additional drives to the hoop; more drives would have created better spacing; better spacing would have yielded superior looks at 3-pointers.
But the Jazz did none of that, too often settling for pounding the air out of the ball before initiating a doomed-from-the-start hero-ball iso attack.
“When a team gets physical, we’ve just got to attack the rim and make plays. And that’s why you didn’t see a lot of assists. … We got stuck a lot in isolation,” Mitchell said. “When a team does that, we’ve just gotta blow by ‘em and then make plays from there.”
Snyder was fixated on his team’s indecisiveness.
The coach is often known for saying that he wants his players to play instinctually. And with sharpshooting and high-scoring forward Bojan Bogdanovic out with injury, Snyder has increasingly stressed the need for the Jazz to adapt by playing faster, taking more shots off the bounce and taking them earlier in the clock.
Saturday’s effort was far too ponderous, Utah’s lack of movement further feeding OKC’s intensity.
“One begets the other. When they’re aggressive, you have to make quick decisions. There’s a moment where you can make the read, whether it’s a shot or a drive, but if you’re hesitant in that decision, their quickness and their athleticism begin to play a part,” Snyder said. “We’ve got some guys who are capable of doing those things, but we didn’t do them [Saturday]. That’s the challenge for us.”
Compounding that challenge is that they now have to do those things against L.A., which ranks third in the NBA in defensive rating this season, will be motivated coming off a loss to Toronto and can clinch the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference with one more victory.
“We know what the Lakers bring. We know they’re talented. We know who’s on that roster and what kind of year they’re having,” Conley said. “For us, just continue to try to prepare every night, put more of an emphasis on establishing our brand of basketball, and not worry so much about how we’re going to defend or stop somebody else, but more so us coming out with a better mindset defensively and more aggression and more competing top to bottom.”
JAZZ VS. LAKERS
At The Arena, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Tipoff • Monday, 7 p.m. MT
TV • ESPN, AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain
Radio • 97.5 FM, 1280 AM
Records • Jazz 42-24; Lakers 50-15
Last meeting • Lakers, 121-96 (Dec. 4, 2019)
About the Jazz • Utah never led in Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma City, and trailed by as many as 29 points. … The Jazz scored just 15 points in the first quarter — the fewest OKC has allowed in an opening quarter all season. … Utah is a combined 16 of 65 (24.6%) from 3-point range in its two seeding games thus far.
About the Lakers • Los Angeles is coming off a 107-92 loss to Toronto on Saturday night. … The Lakers were held to just 35.4% from the field against the Raptors — their lowest field-goal percentage of the season. … After going only 10 of 40 from deep on Saturday, L.A. is a combined 21 of 76 (27.6%) from 3-point range in its two seeding games thus far.