Why Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder said he was ‘proud’ after his team’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks

Despite a fourth consecutive loss, a tumble down the playoff seedings, and another potential injury, the Jazz stubbornly insist it’s “familiar territory” now, and just another challenge to be overcome.

Social media reaction to the Utah Jazz’s 114-100 loss in Dallas on Sunday evening might have been much more severe if not for everyone forgetting all about the defeat mere minutes later when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars.

Rudy Gay even led off his postgame media session by asking about the Hollywood kerfuffle.

Thing is, it was a loss you’d figure would set off alarm bells — a fourth consecutive defeat on a six-game road trip, one which ceded outright control of the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference to the Mavs, and which cut the Jazz’s cushion over sixth-place Denver to just one game … oh, and also Donovan Mitchell jacking up his ankle late in the proceedings, and then throwing out a line postgame that was either benign praise for teammates stepping up or shade thrown at a certain teammate who sat out, depending on your perspective.

And yet …

“This is one of those times you come in after a loss and you’re proud of your team,” coach Quin Snyder noted afterward.

That line didn’t endear him to those disinclined to focus on silver linings amid the team’s wobbly stretch run. Then again, how truly riled up can you get when you remember that Utah was once again without Bojan Bogdanovic and Danuel House and Hassan Whiteside, and had Rudy Gobert out this time, too?

The Jazz’s center minutes were played by 6-foot-6 Eric Paschall, 6-8 Rudy Gay, and 6-9, 215-pound Juancho Hernangomez. Utah had to resort to a switching defense as a result, with no real big men available to anchor their typical drop-big scheme.

The Jazz had some early success — holding Dallas to just 21 first-quarter points, and leading by as much as 11. Of course, it eventually fell apart, and the Jazz wound up trailing by as much as 19.

“We [typically have] got big fella out there, and usually when he’s out there we don’t [have to switch]. When he’s not out there, we’re a totally different team,” said Gay, who scored a team-high 18 points and added eight rebounds in one of his better performances of the season. “He’s a big part of the offense and defense — he makes $40 million a year, so obviously he’s important.”

A little bit.

The Jazz’s short-handedness and relative competitiveness in spite of it explains why Snyder’s postgame comments featured the carrot rather than the stick.

“The biggest thing is I just thought we competed,” he said. “… There were times when Luka [Doncic] was the biggest player on the floor. I thought our guys dug in. … I thought we battled. Keep doing that and get some guys healthy — that’s the key thing for us to take from this.”

Mitchell, who was struggling in the game even before turning his ankle when Mavs big man Dwight Powell landed on the guard’s foot late in the third quarter, seemed to be trying to convey a similar sentiment — praise for those fulfilling the next-man-up ethos — but his phrasing raised the specter of yet more internal dissension, too:

“We came out with some energy and some fire, so I’m really happy with the guys that suited up and got to it,” he said.

The guys that suited up. A low-key dig at Gobert for sitting out one of the team’s biggest matchups of the year with … [checks notes] … a lateral right leg contusion?

Mitchell’s next sentences are perhaps an indication that the line was meant innocently enough — “It could have gone the other way real quick. But we continued to battle and make it tough, and that’s what you want.” — but who knows for sure other than him?

What’s also uncertain is Mitchell’s status for Tuesday’s road trip finale at the Clippers, and beyond.

Asked what his prognosis is, he acknowledged that the ankle was sore, and said that he’d have to see how he is feeling on Monday before he and the team will make any kind of determination.

A Mitchell injury at this point would be a massive blow for a team that’s been preaching being healthy and playing its best by the time the playoffs arrive.

Four straight losses at this point is enough of a hit, in and of itself, but one the team must quickly shake off, Mitchell said: “No one’s gonna feel sorry for us. We’ll bounce back and we’ll respond.”

In a season so filled with ups and downs, you could be forgiven for not being terribly hopeful given this latest swing of negative momentum.

Then again, said Mike Conley, who contributed 14 points and seven assists while shooting 6 of 9, twists and turns are actually predictable at this point. They’re hardly a smack in the face you didn’t see coming.

“We’ve had a heck of a year, as far as the rollercoaster we’ve been on — through injuries, through COVID, through losing streaks, and whatever it may be,” Conley said. “This is familiar territory for us. We’re just trying to stay positive, continue to work, continue to believe [in] what kind of team we do have. And once we get everybody back and healthy, and get guys in comfortable roles, from starters to reserve guys, it’ll allow us to have our feet firmly grounded and planted and move forward like we want to.”