On one hand, four games is probably a statistically invalid sample size from which to derive any meaningful assessments.
On the other hand, four games represents a full 50% of the Utah Jazz’s “seeding games” slate within the bubble at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. Therefore, we’re going to roll with it.
So then, it’s settled: The Jazz have half their games to go and half their games in the rearview — a perfect demarcation point to evaluate where they’ve been and where they’re going.
Of course, with Thursday afternoon’s injury report, we may surmise that where the Jazz are going is to an immediate loss against the Spurs on Friday morning.
After all, with four starters — Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley and Royce O’Neale — slated to sit out due to rest, left peroneal (ankle tendon) strain, right knee soreness, and right calf soreness, respectively, defeating even ninth-place San Antonio would take some doing.
Anyway, that’s the bad news. Now, a look back at the previous pretty good, really bad, somewhat less bad, and somewhat kind of good news …
After the Jazz opened up with a win against the Pelicans, some observers wondered if Utah was potentially capable of securing the Western Conference’s postseason No. 3 seed. Then, after back-to-back losses to the Thunder (wholly dispiriting) and Lakers (merely disappointing), the panic brigade began disseminating widespread missives on the inevitability of the seventh seed. And after a victory over the Grizzlies that was discouraging for how competitive it was, but also encouraging for the signs of progress evident within, the general assessment of the Jazz now is …
It’s gone without saying all along that the loss of Bojan Bogdanovic to injury would be incredibly difficult to overcome. That much remains as true as ever.
Whether or not they can pull such a feat off, though, appears to have become increasingly dependent upon three key criteria:
Starting lineup/bench splits
The team’s bubble-era first five of Gobert/Mitchell/Conley/O’Neale/Joe Ingles has been extremely good thus far in the seeding games, racking up a combined plus-31 in their minutes together over these four games.
Meanwhile, everyone else has been either up-and-down, or just primarily down.
Jordan Clarkson has been all-or-nothing, putting up double-digit point totals in the wins, while having two of his worst games in a Jazz jersey in the losses. Tony Bradley has frequently looked lost as Gobert’s backup. Emmanuel Mudiay has been largely ineffectual. And Georges Niang’s shot remains AWOL.
None of which should give Jazz fans good feelings about how the team may fare with four of its starters all sitting out the same game.
Then again, this is an opportunity for those aforementioned bench players — plus the likes of Rayjon Tucker, Miye Oni, and Jarrell Brantley — to show what they can do in meaningful minutes without the usual fear of ineffectual play being tied to a quick hook.
Through Utah’s first three games in the bubble, the team was shooting less than 28% from deep. That troubling trend went away against the Grizzlies, though, as the Jazz nailed 18 of their 45 tries from beyond the arc — a 40% conversion rate.
So, was that brickfest trio of games an aberration or an area of concern? Those who remember the Jazz’s deep-shooting woes in the past two postseasons won’t be so quick to dismiss the misses as one of those random vagaries of shooting.
Still, the Jazz themselves aren’t conceding any problems other than possibly allowing past misses to preclude future attempts.
“Coach just kept telling us he’d only be worried if we stopped shooting,” Conley said.
Snyder confirmed as much.
“I think there were a few times early we passed a couple up. Frankly, when we do that, usually the
rest of the possession is more difficult,” he said.
For the whole of the regular season, the Jazz rank ninth in the NBA with a 108.8 defensive rating. Over everyone’s past four games, their ranking has jumped up to seventh, though their rating has actually gotten worse (109.9).
And the minutes without Gobert have been increasingly sketchy.
While Bradley has made great progress over three seasons, and is a quality rebounder, his inability to quickly read opposing offenses leaves him slow to react to drives to the rim, and often contributes to foul trouble.
Meanwhile, one of the keys to the team’s defense going forward may well be Conley. Though Jazz fans have frequently fretted about his offensive struggles, Snyder has increasingly praised his efforts on the other end.
The coach said his point guard is now at the point with locking down the perimeter that he’s resorted to dialing down his advice and staying out of his way.
“I just want him to be more and more instinctive, and I try not to overcoach him and screw him up,” Snyder said.
JAZZ VS. SPURS
At HP Field House, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Tipoff • Friday, 11 a.m. MDT
TV • AT&T SportsNet
Radio • 97.5 FM, 1280 AM
Records • Jazz 42-25; Spurs 29-37
Last meeting • Spurs, 113-104 (Feb. 21)
About the Jazz • Utah will have four of its usual starters sit out against San Antonio — All-Stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, plus Mike Conley and Royce O’Neale. … The Jazz finally got their 3-point shot working against Memphis, hitting 18 of 45 tries (40%). … This will be the first of back-to-back games for Utah, as they’ll take on the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.
About the Spurs • After winning its first two seeding games (vs. the Kings and Grizzlies), San Antonio has now lost two in a row (against the Sixers and Nuggets). … DeMar DeRozan is averaging 22.2 points, 5.7 assists and 5.6 rebounds per game. … Though not renowned for their deep-shooting prowess, the Spurs are tied for fourth in the league in 3-point percentage, at 37.4.