Will Hardy took his time coming to his postgame media session Monday night, having spent a fair bit of time telling the Utah Jazz’s players how displeased he was with their 124-111 loss to a short-handed Dallas team.
Once finally in front of reporters, Hardy pulled almost no punches in lamenting his players’ half-speed, low-effort performance.
“Credit to Dallas because they came out ready to play — they played as a team, they played harder than us, they out-executed us,” Hardy began in a blistering but even-keeled critique. “… This is the first game all season where I feel disappointed in our focus.”
He wasn’t happy with the defensive rebounding. Or the transition defense. Or the way players reacted to missing shots. Or the level of attention paid to schemes and assignments and rotations.
Still, as previously mentioned, he pulled almost no punches. Subsequently asked why he felt the team was lacking focus against Dallas and if he saw it coming, he declined to address the elephant in the room: “It’s hard to put your finger on what makes something like this happen.”
Jordan Clarkson, however, just went right ahead and said the quiet part out loud.
“We just got a little bit of outside noise or whatever’s going on,” he said.
Maybe you’ve heard the NBA trade deadline is this Thursday? And that more than a few Jazz players are apparently on the market?
Just about everyone asked uttered some iteration of trying to ignore the rumors, blocking out anything peripheral or tangential to the game itself.
Which, as became apparent Monday, is easier said than done.
Veteran point guard Mike Conley said he’d love to be able to convince young teammates to turn their phones off this week, but knows it’s futile. So instead he preaches “try to come in and keep your routine, try to keep your mind away from the what-ifs and all the possibilities that are out there.”
Nevertheless, even he conceded it’s all but impossible to tune out completely.
“It’s tough. I don’t check Instagram or Twitter as often as the young guys, but you get a text from a family member that says, ‘Welcome to Chicago’ or something — I didn’t get traded to Chicago, but now I’m thinking, ‘Did I get traded to Chicago?’” Conley said. “So I go look it up or go call my agent. It’s nonstop.”
All-Star forward Lauri Markkanen noted the irony of the Jazz being the ones to give the disjointed performance considering the Mavericks were so short-handed — partly on account of injuries (Luka Doncic, Davis Bertans, Maxi Kleber), but also because none of the outgoing (Dorian Finney-Smith, Spencer Dinwiddie) or incoming (Kyrie Irving, Markieff Morris) players from Sunday’s blockbuster trade were available.
It could be argued that the Mavs were more relaxed knowing their big deal was done, whereas the Jazz remain mired in uncertainty, but by all accounts, Dallas’ roster remains unsettled, too, as its front office seeks out new landing spots for the likes of Christian Wood and Tim Hardaway Jr.
The Finnish forward said that having been traded three times now, he’s a bit more zen about the idea and so he personally doesn’t find the trade deadline unsettling; nevertheless, he admitted to being one of myriad players playing sub-optimally Monday.
“[In spite of] the stuff they’ve been through the past couple of days, they played better than us, they played harder than us,” Markkanen said. “Give credit to them, but I don’t think we were ready to play. We weren’t in it from the start. We’ve got to be better than that.”
The Jazz had their moments.
They actually got off to a great start — in the opening 12 minutes, they shot 62.5%, they committed just one turnover, they held Dallas to 9 for 22 from the field, they led by a dozen.
And then Dallas reeled off 11 straight points early in the second quarter, the Jazz fell prey to the emotions of seeing the momentum swing against them, and despite occasional flashes of putting it together again, they never really recovered.
As Hardy put it …
• “Collectively, we just did not have the necessary focus and attention to the little things. They had 27 points in transition and 24 second-chance points, and that’s why we lost the game.”
• “You let not making shots bleed into your overall energy level and psyche and vibe and whatever word you want to use, and it’s a recipe for a bad night.”
• “I told them tonight that, at moments, it really just felt like we were somewhere else in our minds. Wherever that place is, I’m not exactly sure. We just did not seem to have that collective chip on our should that we’ve carried with us all year.”
• “We’ve really prided ourselves all year on carrying that chip on our shoulder, and I think we’ve done that every night — win or lose — this year. And tonight it just felt like we sort of let off the gas a little bit.”
Ultimately, both the coach and his point guard summed it up more succinctly.
“Our minds wandered a little bit,” said Conley.
And so, “We didn’t deserve to win,” concluded Hardy.
The Jazz will hold optional workouts for players on Tuesday but, technically, no official practice.
They also apparently have already ruled out having a Wednesday morning shootaround prior to that night’s game against the visiting Timberwolves.
No official practice and no shootaround means no media availabilities. Which means no reporters around asking players about the trade deadline.
The Jazz are doing whatever it takes to turn down the volume of the “outside noise,” apparently.
Short of turning off their phones, that is.