The season-opening dismantling of Portland shows what the Utah Jazz can be this season

And yet, there’s progress to be made, with cutting down on turnovers and maintaining defensive efficiency

Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley, left, shoots as Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Steve Dipaola)

Some variation on the same cliché has been making its way round the league following the conclusion of pretty much every matchup: Don’t overreact to just one game.

Even Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder rolled it out there in the aftermath of his team’s season-opening 120-100 blowout in Portland, opining, “Well, you know, it is one game, and we have a lot more.”

We’ll concede that point.

Still, doesn’t such a lopsided result against a team that many cited as the most improved in the Western Conference warrant some overreaction? If not after launching a whopping 50 — fifty! — 3-pointers, and limiting notorious Jazz-torturer Dame Lillard to a mere nine points, then when?

Actually, no one on the team bothered to engage in superficial hyperbole or to roll out trite superlatives.

There was, in their eyes, simultaneously both a lot to like and plenty yet to improve upon, which is, if you think about, perhaps something of a flex, after all.

If there’s tons of progress to be had on that performance, just how scary is this team?

That, of course, is getting ahead of things. First off, the perfectly reasonable and nuanced assessments. For starters, despite Lillard’s scoreless first half and single-digit final tally, the defense is still not where anyone wants it to be.

Donovan Mitchell praised Mike Conley and Royce O’Neale for making it tough on Lillard. And Rudy Gobert hedging out to the 3-point line to take away many of the Weber State product’s favorite looks played a role, as well. Both good signs.

However, the consistency was not there throughout.

“We did a great job, [but] we’re still working on that end,” Jordan Clarkson said.

“The biggest thing is continuing to keep that pressure. We kind of let up a little bit in the third and fourth, they cut it to 20 when CJ [McCollum] started attacking,” Mitchell explained. “… But that’s going to be the biggest thing, is continuing to defend at a high level and keeping the same intensity, not missing the little details.”


When • Saturday, 7 p.m.


Snyder pointed out that there were a fair amount of breakdowns early in the game before praising his team for adjusting and subsequently generating some transition opportunities.

Still, he ultimately concurred that while the defense is trending in the right direction, it needs to be more of a constant.

“From the first preseason game, where I didn’t think we defended as well as we need to, we’ve gotten better. I’d like to see us continue to get better,” Snyder said. “Every game’s going to be a little different as far as what’s required and what adjustments we have to make, but we’ve got a team that’s intelligent and they’re capable of following a game plan. Our habits, they’re not great, but they’re pretty good, and they can keep getting better.”

As for the offensive end, there seemed to be more generally positive reviews, if not totally perfect ones.

Clarkson said Snyder told the team afterward he was pleased with the volume of 3-point shots. He also referenced the 47 points scored by the reserves and said of the second unit’s progress: “It feels good knowing that we have an impact on the game and can come in here and help our team.” Gobert praised the group for “playing unselfish.”

Mitchell mentioned the growing chemistry between the players now that they’ve had more than a year together, as well as the team’s versatility — “we have many options, many weapons” — as evidenced by adjusting to Portland’s adjustments via pivoting from 3-point shooting to “going back to our roots” with pick-and-rolls, thanks to Gobert being “such a dynamic roller” and “the old reliable Joe and Fav.”

Snyder, playing devil’s advocate, saw too much carelessness with the ball after halftime.

“We had a stretch offensively in the second half over a few possessions where our offense hurt our defense. That’s maybe the biggest thing — it’s hard to defend after turnovers,” he said. “So we’ve just got to make sure that we’re precise on the offensive end and don’t make it harder on ourselves.”

All fair criticisms, and ones his players will surely take to heart.

Still, it’s all a bit serious, isn’t it?

This was an explosive outburst, an eye-popping domination. Surely we can allow them to enjoy and appreciate the feel-good nature of their first performance, secure in the knowledge that there are 71 more games to not overreact to things? On that note …

“It’s fun when we play the way we played [Wednesday],” Gobert said.

That wasn’t so hard now, was it?

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