So, it seems fair to say that the first three games of this road trip have exposed (or at least further illustrated) some problem areas for the Utah Jazz.
A Washington Wizards team that came in having lost five games in a row and not having beaten Utah since Feb. 18, 2016 ended both skids on Thursday, sending the reeling Jazz to a 131-122 defeat.
Utah was so bad on this occasion that not even the combination of a season-high 42 points from Donovan Mitchell and a career-high 34 from Joe Ingles could save them.
“You can write a nice, long list of all the things we didn’t do tonight,” Ingles opined afterward.
There were, indeed, plenty to choose from.
Among the contributions to Thursday’s wreckage:
• The Jazz’s formerly stingy defense is still generally sound schematically, but has been beset by a lack of effort, with midrange shots being forced but infrequently contested. On Thursday, Washington met with little resistance and shot 54.7% from the field, totaling at least 31 points in each quarter.
• Bradley Beal (43 points, five assists) and Russell Westbrook (35 points, 15 rebounds, 13 assists) were particularly dominant, exploiting Utah’s mediocre point-of-attack defense to shoot a combined 28 of 47 (60%).
“We are not tough enough. I feel like we don’t embrace our defensive mindset enough,” said Rudy Gobert. “We do it when we’re down, but when the game starts we always need to get punched first before we react.”
• Bojan Bogdanovic is in a full-fledged slump, and seems to lose control of the ball every time he puts it on the floor. He totaled six points on 2-for-12 shooting vs. Washington.
• Mitchell as “point guard” remains more theoretical than practical at the moment, his on-court decision-making going through some severe downturns of late. He committed four turnovers Thursday and was especially erratic in the opening half, where he managed just nine points.
• Everyone else is seemingly following those two guys’ lead and being entirely too careless with the ball. Turnovers were a problem all game long in Sunday’s loss to the Warriors, early on in Tuesday’s win over the Celtics, and early again Thursday.
• Specifically, the Jazz committed 17 turnovers against the Wizards, leading to 24 Washington points. Early miscues in particular were again a problem, as Utah coughed it up five times in the first quarter and seven more in the second.
“There’s turnovers and then there’s turnovers, and some of the ones that were being defended are plays we can make. We have to be more precise. It has to be more important to take care of the ball,” said coach Quin Snyder. “… There’s times when you can overcome that, and there’s times when you dig yourself a pretty big hole — too big a hole.”
• The turnovers were bad enough, but the Jazz’s apparently indifferent transition defense amplified the problem.
“It started in transition. Off our misses or turnovers — or even our made buckets — they were pushing it all the way to the rim,” Ingles said. “We knew, coming in, that they play fast. They push the ball. And we were jogging back. That was a massive part.”
• Utah’s normally strong bench — depleted a bit by Ingles starting in Mike Conley’s place — went silent, combining for 19 points, as Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jordan Clarkson shot 2 for 11 and turned it over five times.
• The Jazz were a mess at the foul line, going 16 for 28, highlighted by Gobert’s miserable 2-for-10 night.
• Even when the Jazz managed to smooth out the rough edges and approach something resembling normalcy, it proved unsustainable. After rallying to within 85-77 in the third quarter, they were outscored 15-5 over the rest of the period and went into the final 12 minutes down 18. And after getting within 112-105 in the fourth, they surrendered another scoring spurt that enabled Washington to go back up by double-digits and hold on for good.
Utah has now gone 5-6 since racing out to a league-best 24-5 start.
Mitchell noted afterward that the Jazz have not been coming out with the same level of urgency of late that they did earlier in the season, which has resulted in opponents exploiting them early in games.
“We just gotta be ready for it. We can’t wait. We’ve gotten accustomed to waiting and then saying, ‘Oh, we’ll come back.’ We can’t do that,” he said. “… We have to be mentally ready because, we’re not the Jazz of the past, we’re not the 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 seed; we’re the number one team in the league, and this is what comes with it every night.”
Ingles, who was visibly frustrated in the aftermath, said it was no overreaction to suggest that the team’s ultimate fate this season is right now hanging in the balance.
If they don’t get it turned around soon, he foresees an all-too-familiar end.
“We’ve still got a decent record regardless of the result tonight, but we need a play like we like we want to win a championship, like we want to not get knocked out in the first round,” Ingles said. “We need to come out aggressive on both ends — when we do, we’re a really, really F’ing a good team.”
Gobert agreed, intimating that the team’s early success perhaps went to their heads a bit.
Now is the time, he added, to forget about that and get back to playing with an edge.
“We have to understand that we haven’t accomplished s---,” Gobert said succinctly. “… We get upset when people laugh at us on TV and disrespect us. It’s on us to have respect for ourselves and understand that we’re the challengers, we’re not the champions, we’re not a team that can just cruise and then turn it on when it’s playoff time. We need to understand that we’ve got to stay hungry.”
WIZARDS 131, JAZZ 122
Bogdanovic 2-12 2-2 6, O'Neale 3-5 2-2 11, Gobert 4-8 2-10 10, Ingles 12-17 2-3 34, Mitchell 16-30 6-7 42, Brantley 0-0 0-0 0, Favors 2-2 0-1 4, Morgan 0-0 0-0 0, Niang 1-7 0-0 3, Oni 2-4 0-0 5, Clarkson 2-11 2-3 7, Forrest 0-0 0-0 0, Hughes 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 44-96 16-28 122.
Hachimura 5-10 2-3 12, Mathews 2-2 2-4 7, Len 3-5 3-4 9, Beal 16-24 7-8 43, Westbrook 12-23 9-11 35, Avdija 0-3 2-2 2, Bertans 1-1 0-0 2, Lopez 4-11 3-4 11, Bonga 2-5 0-0 4, Neto 2-2 2-2 6. Totals 47-86 30-38 131.
Utah 20 26 36 40 — 122
Washington 31 33 36 31 — 131
3-Point Goals_Utah 18-48 (Ingles 8-10, Mitchell 4-12, O’Neale 3-5, Oni 1-2, Niang 1-4, Clarkson 1-8, Bogdanovic 0-6), Washington 7-17 (Beal 4-6, Westbrook 2-5, Bonga 0-2, Avdija 0-3). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Utah 47 (Gobert 13), Washington 43 (Westbrook 15). Assists_Utah 19 (Clarkson, Mitchell 6), Washington 23 (Westbrook 13). Total Fouls_Utah 27, Washington 27. A_0 (20,356)