The Utah Jazz had their first really bad game of the season on Saturday night in the nation’s capital.
The Jazz’s three previous losses this season have come in three pretty predictable situations; on the second night of a back-to-back against a Houston Rockets team that is young and has nothing to lose; against a shorthanded Denver Nuggets team that was soured after having their teeth kicked in by the Jazz on opening night; and against the Dallas Mavericks, who were great and also gave the Jazz their first taste of the season at operating against a well-oiled zone defense.
But on Saturday against the Bradley Beal-less Wizards, the Jazz should have been more prepared after having two days off between this game and their last one in Atlanta against the Hawks on Wednesday night, and the Wizards should serve as a cautionary tale for the upstart Jazz.
It was just last season that the Wizards started the season 10-3 and looked like they were going to shock the world before they completely flailed through the rest of the season.
Nothing in the NBA is guaranteed or going to be given away for free, and the Jazz learned that as they fell asleep on defense in a 121-112 loss that dropped their record to 10-4.
There are some really basic fundamentals to transition defense. First, guard someone, anyone. Second, stop the ball.
Seems pretty simple, but of course when you add in world-class athletes and the complexities of real-time decisions, it makes things a little more difficult. Still, those two main principles should at least be attempted, but it seemed like the Jazz just forgot about them.
“We did not communicate picking up the ball in transition,” Jazz head coach Will Hardy said. “They were able to get some easy looks and they got in a rhythm because of our lack of defensive intensity.
“And credit to them, they shot the crap out of it tonight, and that’s because they played great and we did not help ourselves on the defensive end with our communication, our aggressiveness, guarding the ball, helping our teammates.”
On the defensive side, the Jazz didn’t really help themselves when things slowed down into half-court sets. The Wizards were clearly operating under a game plan that was looking for favorable switches for Kristaps Porzingis, and they easily got those switches over and over.
Then, when they had the matchup they wanted, whether it was Mike Conley, Collin Sexton or Malik Beasley on Porzingis, they punished the Jazz for allowing it to happen, and the Jazz didn’t put up much resistance.
“I would have liked to have seen us fight a little bit harder,” Hardy said. “I would have liked to have seen us not foul him shooting jump shots in the first half.
“A great player like that gets to go to the free throw line and see a bunch go in, it really helps him get in his rhythm and then he hits some tough ones … we can’t help great players get in a rhythm by being undisciplined.”
But even when the Jazz would put up a little fight and get the ball out of Porzingis’ hands, he waited until the Jazz were in rotations and out of position and swung the ball to an open man.
“We have to do a better job of trying to get the ball out of his hands and rotating,” Conley said. “I think there was a couple of times we had a couple of chances where we tried to get to the corners and they were making shots, every one of their guys.
“KP did a great job of kind of opening it up for them.”
Lack of physicality leading to distraction from the game
The Jazz also lacked physicality on the offensive end. They only had one free throw in the first half of the game, and that was on a technical free throw by Mike Conley after a three-second violation.
The officials were letting the guys play and not calling a lot of the ticky-tack stuff, and rather than play through contact and just try to get into a rhythm, the Jazz were either trying to sell fouls and not scoring, or they were letting the ball stick and getting out of their normal offensive rhythm.
“I was talking to the refs all night and I was reminding them that we’d shot one free throw,” Conley said. “It’s tough when you’re trying to get to the free throw line and you miss a couple of those and they get out in transition … We can’t get caught up in that game.
“You can’t get caught up in trying to get to the free throw line when nights are like tonight. Continue to run, continue to be aggressive and concentrate on finishing and making our shots, and the rest of the stuff will take care of itself. I think we got caught up in that little bit.”
Yes, the Jazz weren’t getting the calls they thought they deserved, but they also weren’t playing the same kind of moving and cutting offense that they normally do that gets the defense confused and more likely to foul.
They weren’t playing through contact and instead were dying on the contact. That’s not the kind of physicality that is going to win games, and it’s not the kind that serves the offense.
Conley admitted that he fell into that trap and said he’s glad that the Jazz have another game Sunday, because they want to right their mistakes as soon as possible.
They Jazz play in Philadelphia on Sunday against the 76ers, who will also be on a back-to-back after beating the Hawks on Saturday night.