Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 114-89 win over the Los Angeles Lakers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. This Jazz’s team’s unselfishness
Mike Conley wasn’t named an All-Star today. He got passed up by the coaches on Tuesday, and then commissioner Adam Silver selected Suns guard Devin Booker as an injury replacement this afternoon.
This, obviously, was a gigantic bummer to Mike. He’s been in the league for 13 years, and knows that he doesn’t have 13 more years left in his career. Even if he doesn’t have two more years left in his career, he’s already one of the best players to never make an All-Star game. It’s not out of the question that he’ll be the very best ever to not make it.
“Man, it was tough. I really, really thought this was the year. I joked with the guys on the team that I blame them. We should have started the year 31-0. Maybe that would have given me a chance, but I don’t know what else to do,” Conley said. “I tell them it’s hard for us because a lot of these games we’ve played, we’ve we’ve won by a lot, double digits. So, you know, you’re not playing late in the fourth quarter and stuff like that.”
So naturally, with the Jazz playing the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers on TV, this was an opportunity for Conley to make a statement: ‘I deserve to be there.’
Conley started the game by scoring the first five points, and added another three shortly after. Then Mitchell said, he did something unique. “He tried to run a play for me to start the game when he just made three threes in a row,” Mitchell said. “I’m like, bro, like, stop. Shoot it.”
That’s one of the things that feels different about this team this year.
Exactly one year ago, the Jazz at home lost by 20 points to the Suns, in the midst of an ugly stretch of play. I wrote a 3,500 word Triple Team that night, with every single quote from every single player we interviewed, just so they could have the chance to explain themselves. I didn’t know what was wrong with them, but something clearly was up.
We now know that Mitchell was feuding with Rudy Gobert, who wanted for Mitchell to pass him more lobs. Mitchell wanted to show he was the star of the show and could score in his own way. Conley wanted to show he could fit in in a new team. It was an incohesive mess, and it showed.
That year’s team played selfish basketball.
This year’s team just beat the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers by 25 without having a single player score over 18 points.
Mitchell shot poorly, but no one cares, because he had eight assists and 10 rebounds. Conley tried to call a play for Mitchell on the night he would have been most justified in raising his middle fingers to the world and getting shots up. Gobert led the team in scoring — his field goals were assisted by three Mitchell passes and three Conley passes. It’s all clicking.
Isn’t it remarkable how one year has changed everything?
2. Jazz make it more difficult for LeBron to drive
Yes, okay, it wasn’t the Lakers’ best game. They don’t have Anthony Davis or Dennis Schröder right now, and Marc Gasol is no longer the jumbo creator he once was. That means that LeBron James had to create everything.
But the Jazz didn’t make James’ life easy in doing so. Limiting James to only four assists is a major win for the Jazz — it’s his season-low. They did it by being sorta clever about how they guarded him: they didn’t double team him directly, but just very obviously had Gobert linger in the paint to try to dissuade the drive.
Of course, he’s the best player in the world, so he made some of those shots anyway. And when Gobert wasn’t there to dissuade, he did get some highlight dunks. But it happened infrequently enough that ultimately, LeBron decided it wasn’t going to be worth the effort. He certainly was tired, the result of so many losses and overtime games for the Lakers recently.
To be honest, you also got the sense that these coaches — and I’ll throw James in there as a kind of player-coach — didn’t want to show their hand. There’s a really good chance that these teams will meet in the playoffs at some point, and so while the Lakers’ attempts at defense were relatively half-hearted, their attempts to make adjustments to the Jazz’s killer offense were one-tenth-hearted.
3. Roster thoughts
The Jazz waived Shaq Harrison Wednesday.
I’m surprised it didn’t work out, to be honest. Harrison was a quite good defender on a quite bad Bulls team last season. Sure, his offensive skillset was limited, but I thought it would work anyway because he wouldn’t be asked to do much offensively. He shot 38% from three last year, isn’t that enough?
I think on this Jazz team, it is not enough. Whereas once the Jazz’s highest priority was defense, I think it is now offensive versatility — everyone on the roster is capable of making these really smart, quick decisions with the ball in their hands to keep it moving and to find the open man. Harrison isn’t a passer, at all, so he couldn’t find a home here.
Now they have 13 players. The league rule is that they can stay at 13 players for up to two weeks, but then they’ll need to add a 14th.
The trade deadline is on March 25 this year, so I’d bet that they don’t acquire their last roster spot in a trade. But Tuesday was the first day that teams could sign 10-day players, and there are some interesting possibilities, including on the Salt Lake City Stars... maybe they just give Yogi Ferrell or Malcolm Miller a look?
I also wonder if they wait the full two weeks to sign someone. I mean, it’s pretty clear that they don’t need the help at the moment, and signing a player for the extra time just means the Jazz go further over the luxury tax. They may stay at 13 players for as long as possible to just help save the $110K — the value of a 10-day contract this season — against the books.