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Utah Jazz get a glimpse of their future after falling victim to Heat’s rapidly-changing defensive coverages

Miami prevails 124-116, thanks to throwing multiple different looks at Utah and slowing down Utah’s process of adaptation — a tactic more opponents are sure to emulate.

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) goes to the basket as center Rudy Gobert (27) defends Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo, center, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

“They played different coverages — they played zone, they hedged, they blitzed, they switched. They did everything.”

And with that singular postgame statement, Donovan Mitchell not only summed up the Utah Jazz’s primary problem in Friday’s 124-116 loss to the Miami Heat, but the primary problem that they’re bound to encounter from opponents going forward.

As NBA analyst and former assistant coach Steve Jones Jr. noted on social media in the aftermath of a game that dropped Utah to 26-7 on the season, “Multiple coverages is the key these days.”

True enough.

There have been a lot of different looks tried against the Jazz this year in an effort to find a way to somehow slow down both their record-setting 3-point barrage and their ability to attack the paint. Opponents have often resorted to simply switching, though Utah’s mostly figured that out. Some teams are now fully committed to running them off the line — only to get wrecked by dribble penetration and lobs.

Typically when an opponent unleashes some new look, the Jazz require a bit of game time to sort it out before eventually acclimating as the game goes along and ultimately exploiting once they’ve fully figured it out.

Per stats.NBA.com, the Jazz have outscored opponents by an average of 2.0 points in first quarters, but they improve to +2.9 in the second, and +4.7 in the third. (Fourth quarters have seen them break even, though that’s mostly because they’ve generally been up double-digits so often that their end-of-bench guys are closing out games.)

If you give the Jazz but one defensive look in a game, it takes them a bit to adjust, but they eventually exploit it. The Heat were able to fluidly switch between coverages Friday night, and the Jazz spent all game adjusting.

And as a result, their execution suffered: 40 of 94 from the field (42.6%) and 15 of 46 from 3-point range (32.6%). Not to mention managing but 22 points on 7-for-24 shooting in the fourth quarter of a rare tight game.

“The way that we want to play, we need everybody to be very precise in what they’re doing. We need to pass the ball at the right time, we need to shoot when we’re open, we need to be spaced really well,” said coach Quin Snyder. “Our execution on the offensive end, with all those all those little things, wasn’t as good. … Tonight was a situation where we dribbled it too long, we didn’t shoot it when we should, we didn’t have good spacing — a lot of little things that we have to do better.”

Several of Snyder’s players specifically pointed to the spacing as the primary culprit, how Miami’s ever-shifting alignments constantly had Jazz players in the wrong spots.

“Tonight, whether it was us not running to the corner or sacrificing for each other to get into space, we weren’t able to create lanes for guys to drive and make those extra plays and extra passes,” said Mike Conley, who had 14 points and seven assists, but shot just 6 of 15 overall and 2 of 7 from deep. “And it kind of got us out of our rhythm.”

Mitchell, who contributed 30 points and six rebounds, but shot 11 of 26 and 2 of 9, and had just three assists against five turnovers, took it a step further.

“Spacing was huge. … There are certain times where Royce [O’Neale] will drive and I’m standing right there next to him, as opposed to getting to the corner so he has a lane. Or vice versa. Or I’m driving and Rudy [Gobert]’s standing there. Or I should hit Rudy on a pass,” Mitchell said. “Little things like that that we didn’t execute in the game.”

Both Mitchell and Gobert lamented Utah’s lack of transition attack, rightly pointing out that improving upon their meager six fast break points could have prevented the Heat from setting up such effective defenses: “I don’t think we did a lot,” Gobert wryly noted, “maybe because we didn’t get a lot of stops.”

Yeah — allowing Miami to shoot 59% from the field after halftime pretty much had the effect of making getting out in transition impossible.

With the Heat so successful against the Jazz on Friday, future opponents are bound to employ a similar strategy.

The good news for the Jazz, though, Conley said, is that there’s nothing in those coverages they haven’t seen and adapted to before. The key now is simply getting those adaptations to come more quickly.

“They switched a lot of our actions, and teams have done that throughout the year, and we’ve adjusted and we’ve made plays around it,” Conley said. “So you give them credit — but we also have a huge amount of control to be able to dictate those situations.”

HEAT 124, JAZZ 116

UTAH (116)

Bogdanovic 5-11 4-4 17, O'Neale 3-8 0-0 8, Gobert 4-7 7-7 15, Conley 6-15 0-0 14, Mitchell 11-26 6-8 30, Favors 3-3 0-0 6, Niang 0-0 0-0 0, Ingles 4-7 2-2 13, Clarkson 4-17 2-2 13. Totals 40-94 21-23 116.

MIAMI (124)

Butler 12-22 9-11 33, Olynyk 3-8 0-0 8, Adebayo 7-14 5-5 19, Nunn 5-9 0-0 12, Robinson 5-9 1-1 15, Iguodala 2-5 2-2 8, Okpala 0-2 0-0 0, Dragic 9-15 5-6 26, Vincent 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 44-86 22-25 124.

Utah 30 23 41 22 — 116

Miami 26 31 39 28 — 124

3-Point Goals_Utah 15-46 (Ingles 3-5, Bogdanovic 3-7, Clarkson 3-12, O’Neale 2-6, Conley 2-7, Mitchell 2-9), Miami 14-30 (Robinson 4-7, Dragic 3-4, Nunn 2-4, Olynyk 2-4, Iguodala 2-5, Vincent 1-2, Butler 0-3). Fouled Out_Utah 1 (Bogdanovic), Miami 1 (Olynyk). Rebounds_Utah 36 (Gobert 12), Miami 50 (Adebayo 11). Assists_Utah 24 (Conley 7), Miami 24 (Butler 8). Total Fouls_Utah 21, Miami 21. A_0 (19,600)

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