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The Triple Team: Ersan Ilyasova shines vs. Lakers; some thoughts about the Jazz’s rest strategy

Utah Jazz forward Georges Niang, left, shoots as Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, April 17, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 127-115 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Don’t Stop T’Ilyasova

What a randomly glorious performance from the recently acquired Turkish forward-turned-center. Yesterday, I wrote about how he didn’t look productive at all in his backup center minutes. The very next day, he turns around and scores 20 points, has four steals, two blocks, and absolutely shines.

Let’s talk first about that block on Kyle Kuzma, because it’s terrific. Ilyasova scrambles from the opposite side of the court, gets there just in time to get his hand on the front side of the rim, and meets Kuzma as he’s slamming down the dunk. (What a call in this video, too.)

He also tied a Jazz record by hitting five threes in one quarter, becoming the fourth Jazzman to do that.

What a random list. Naturally, you would expect the Jazz’s star 3-point shooters to be on that list. Donovan Mitchell’s never done it, but Gordan Giricek has? Jordan Clarkson seemingly shoots 15 threes per quarter, he hasn’t made five before? John Stockton and Jeff Hornacek played hundreds and hundreds of games for the Jazz but never did it? Deron Williams never did, but C.J. Miles got it done? And now Ilyasova, who is in his 9th game in a Jazz uniform? And his career high for threes in an entire game is just six? It’s all a little outrageous.

I thought this one was the pick of the litter, a confident three over a towering closeout from Andre Drummond, who was quite close and is much taller than Ilyasova.

So, natural question: does it mean anything?

Probably not for the playoffs, though I can maybe see a scenario in which Favors struggles or gets hurt, and then the Jazz need Ilyasova or Juwan Morgan to come in and play those backup center minutes.

But it might mean something for the regular season. I don’t think this will be the last time the Jazz rest Rudy Gobert, and so Ilyasova will get this opportunity again. And if the Jazz can win any of the games in which Gobert sits, that would help them keep the No. 1 seed as they try to keep their stars healthy.

2. The last defensive possession left something to be desired

This is a bit too easy for a game-tying bucket in this situation.

It looks like there might have been some confusion about whether or not Royce O’Neale and Bojan Bogdanovic should have switched? But in that circumstance, if O’Neale has the option on staying with their leading scorer, I’d much prefer it compared to Bogdanovic one-on-one.

So I can understand how Dennis Schroder gets that first step by O’Neale, due to that potential miscommunication. But after that, I don’t think he does enough — it was almost like O’Neale gifted the layup to Schroder, without much of a fight. It was like he was playing defense like Gobert would be behind him; that certainly wasn’t the case. It was almost two mental mistakes on one play, both pretty understandable, but pretty unfortunate.

I think it’s good for the Jazz to play through some of these situations without Gobert. In those games, the perimeter players also have the chance to work on their individual defense without the French Rejection being able to come in and save the day all the time. Just maybe, that might have a positive impact when Gobert does play.

A game-tying basket like that hurts, even in a goofy game where the best players weren’t playing. The Jazz will watch the film and try to apply those improvements before Tuesday’s contest.

3. On resting, and being tied in the loss column with Phoenix.

The Jazz didn’t play Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, Rudy Gobert, and Derrick Favors tonight.

So, lots of thoughts here:

• It was a good idea for the Jazz to rest their guys. You can see how tired they are: their transition defense, inconsistent play, coming up a little short on threes... it’s all pretty obviously at least partially fatigue related. And we know that fatigue also puts players at higher injury risk, and nobody wants that.

• The Jazz will probably still get the No. 1 seed. Even after this loss, and the Jazz’s lead over the Suns down to just one game, FiveThirtyEight still expects the Jazz to win the conference by three games. That’s because the Jazz have the easiest schedule in the league remaining, while the Suns have Spurs, Bucks, 76ers, Celtics, Nets, Knicks, Clippers, Jazz over their next eight games. Wow.

• Even if the Jazz move to the No. 2 seed, it’s just not that bad of a thing. The Lakers look likely to be either the fourth or the fifth seed, so you’d get to be on the other side of the bracket. You’d have a harder first-round matchup, but likely an easier second-round matchup.

And what are the odds that the Jazz and Suns meet in the Western Conference Finals? 25%? What are the odds that that series would go to seven games, and then home court advantage would come into play? Another 25%? The Jazz would still have home court advantage over everyone else.

• It is legitimately terrible for the NBA that the Jazz, coming in to a nationally televised weekday game, can just decide to rest their All-Stars. (Mitchell’s obviously hurt, but if the game was important to them, Conley and Gobert would have played.) It ended up being an exciting game, but every casual NBA fan tuned out to go do something else the moment it was announced none of the game’s five All-Stars would be playing.

Fining teams for sitting guys in these circumstances won’t work: teams are too rich. The league even said they would fine teams $100K for doing this, and they still do it; the Jazz and everyone else. It’s an easy choice: pay $100K, or risk severe injury to star players? That would cost everyone a whole lot more than $100K.

At some point, we just have to figure out how to make these games matter — if we’re going to have a compelling product, if we’re going to be able to grow the league. This wasn’t it.

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