Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 116-108 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Offense hums — except Jazz can’t make shots
I know it was a Jazz loss tonight. But I thought we saw the best basketball from them that we’ve seen at any point in the return of the bubble, except they just missed the open 3-point shots that were generated.
Mike Conley sets up Jordan Clarkson perfectly here. LeBron James doesn’t even contest it. Shot misses.
Clarkson stays patient on his drive, finds a wide open Emmanuel Mudiay. Clang.
Even the Jazz’s final play of the game fit the pattern. Donovan Mitchell, knowing time and score, sets up Royce O’Neale, which would have brought the Jazz within three. Heck, maybe they can get a steal, maybe someone misses two free throws. The game would still be alive! The shot spun out.
Of course, the Jazz miss Bojan Bogdanovic and his shooting prowess. But they also miss Clarkson shooting 36% from three, Joe Ingles shooting 40%, Georges Niang shooting 40%, O’Neale shooting 39%, and even Emmanuel Mudiay shooting 34%. The only Jazzmen who could hit a three were Mitchell and Conley, who combined for a pedestrian 7-19. It’s three games now where the Jazz have been disappointing from beyond the arc.
I saw a couple of Jazz fans online say “Well, if the threes aren’t falling, attack the paint more!” But that misses how the Jazz got the threes: by attacking the paint, drawing the extra defender, and finding the open man. They were terrific at that tonight. But they can’t attack the paint and then take wild layups while being double-covered by Anthony Davis and a help defender. That would be bad basketball.
I think it’ll turn around, at least mostly. These guys are legitimately better shooters than this, and so I think it’s reasonable to think that this is a 3-game swoon and/or some degree of pandemic shooting rust.
Those open shots were generated by terrific passes throughout the night, which I loved to see. But on the other hand, the Jazz had 21 turnovers tonight, from which the Lakers scored 26 points. Were the turnovers part of necessary risk-taking, or were they preventable errors?
For example, this, to me, is a necessary risk. Rudy Gobert looks to have gotten beyond Javale McGee in the pick and roll, and so Ingles lobs it up to him. Gobert stops his roll short, so the pass misses. The two players weren’t on the same page. But if the play works, and it usually does, it’s two points. And the turnover here isn’t a terrible one: with the ball so deep in the Jazz’s half, they have time to get back.
On the other hand, this is a preventable error to me. O’Neale makes two bad decisions here, one to not just take the open three he has in the first place, and one to try to pass it to Conley in the direction of Anthony Davis rather than to Ingles, who is open.
Now the good news for Jazz fans is that I saw more turnovers that I considered acceptable ones. For example, I didn’t mind O’Neale’s offensive foul when James was guarding him in transition — he just didn’t get the benefit of a 50/50 call. On the other hand, when Anthony Davis steals the ball on a simple swing pass with 20 seconds on the shot clock, that’s just lack of focus.
That’s long been among Quin Snyder’s philosophies. He noticed that the high-turnover teams were actually frequently near the top of the offensive rating leaderboards, and concluded that some turnovers are okay if they come in the context of good offense. Tonight, I think we saw that — and again, the shots just didn’t fall.
3. Playing for positioning in the context of the bubble
What are the Jazz playing for here, exactly?
After tonight’s loss, they’re now in fifth, half a game below the Houston Rockets for the four seed. That means they’d play the Rockets again in the playoffs in the first round, if things started today.
Normally, you’d say that they’re playing for home court positioning. But everyone’s playing in Orlando this year, and I have a hard time believing that the virtual fans are making the Jazz play better or worse. Sorry, virtual fans. The Jazz’s home-court advantage is usually one of the best — if not the best — in the NBA, but it simply won’t matter this year.
So given that, the only reason the Jazz are playing right now is to
A) avoid the seventh seed, which would mean playing the Clippers in the first round
B) figure things out so that they can play well in the playoffs while staying healthy
C) find the best matchup they can in the first round and throughout the playoffs
You’d have to believe that avoiding the Rockets would be priority No. 1. I think no one on the Jazz wants to face the Rockets again, and likely lose to them again. But then again, they just got blown out by OKC. We’ll see how they fare against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday, but you can argue the current No. 3 seed is their most favorable matchup. Sliding down to No. 6 also would mean the Jazz would avoid the Lakers until the Western Conference Finals.
Truthfully, it may not matter much — the Jazz might just be undermanned either way after Bogdanovic’s injury. But doesn’t that just maximize the importance of facing someone you have a fighting chance against?
The other four teams in this grouping are probably thinking the same. The Nuggets tanked last year to get a favorable playoff matchup, so you know Mike Malone would consider it this year. Mike D’Antoni rests his stars in regular season games frequently, you don’t think he would to get a quality matchup?
I guess my point is that it’s about to get a little bit loopy. Maybe not just yet, but I expect some shenanigans in the final three seeding games.