After an embarrassing 50-point blowout loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, Utah Jazz players don’t have much time to think about it as they prepare for a Friday night showdown in Philadelphia.
While many predict the Jazz to be near the top of the Western Conference standings around playoff time, the 2018-19 season has gotten off to a roller coaster start at 7-7.
Last night’s 118-68 loss was the second largest in franchise history, behind the New Orleans Jazz’s 56-point loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on March 14, 1979, 158-102.
“I feel like I’ve never lost by this much, but I have had some worse losses,” Gobert said after the Dallas game. “They outplayed us in every lineup and every guy we got up on the court against, we simply got outplayed from the first to the last minute.”
Part of the reason behind Utah’s topsy-turvy start is the inconsistency on defense as well as offense. Last season, Utah held the league’s top defensive rating at 102.9, but this year the Jazz rank 20th at 110.1 with the 19th best offensive rating (108.5) of 30 NBA teams.
In the Dallas loss, Utah was also held to 22 second half points, which were the fewest points by a Dallas opponent in any half in franchise history. Point guard Ricky Rubio was the Jazz's top scorer with 11 points while star guard Donovan Mitchell went 3-for-9 to score 10 points with five turnovers.
“I just didn’t play with enough force,” Mitchell said. “There wasn’t much that I did to impact the game tonight. We have two big games coming up … so I have to change that."
After a breakout rookie season, Mitchell has returned to average 20.5 points, 3.7 assists and 3.7 rebounds on just 43.7 percent shooting. Sure, his numbers are slightly better than last year’s 20.4 points, 4.3 assists and 2.8 rebounds on 41.4 percent shooting, but former Jazzman and fellow Louisville alumnus Darrell Griffith advises him to expand his game if he wants to become one of the true greats in franchise history.
“Look in the mirror, turn around and look at that bulls-eye on your back because you’re a marked man now and it makes it even harder,” Griffith said of Mitchell last week. “So, you’ve got to work even harder.
“You’ve got to start learning how to diversify your game,” he added. “He needs to work on all facets of his game, especially offensively without relying so much on the 3-pointer and going to the hole. He’s got to develop a midrange game to balance everything out. Once he does that, he’s going to be smooth sailing.”
Not only is Mitchell dealing with the pressures of building off last year’s second-round postseason run, reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert can feel it as well. Teams are growing more comfortable attacking the basket against him, especially with the league’s point of emphasis on freedom of movement on the perimeter and post.
“I think it’s a mix of a lot of things. First of all, teams come here with the mindset of attacking of us,” Gobert said. “You can feel it. You can feel that ‘we know the Utah Jazz last year’ in their head and they come into the game and they try to be aggressive.
“They know what we’re trying to doing defensively and they try to counter that by being even more aggressive on the perimeter and driving and kicking so it’s on us to go past that and just be the aggressor,” he added. “We’ve got to set the tone and when we start setting the tone defensively, things are going to go back to how they should be.”
The Jazz know they have to get it together in the midst of their five-game road trip which stops in Philadelphia next although it’s still early in the season. Utah has split the first two, with three games left before returning home and are confident that things will get better by sticking to the game plan.
“Of course, they’re more ready and they watch more tape and we play the same system as we did last year and they pay more attention,” Rubio said. “But the system works, and we know but we have to do it 100 percent.”