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Analysis: Jazz are struggling to close games and miss Mike Conley as losses mount

SHARE Analysis: Jazz are struggling to close games and miss Mike Conley as losses mount
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Utah Jazz forward Kelly Olynyk (41) loses the ball as Chicago Bulls center Nikola Vucevic (9) guards him during an NBA game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022. The Jazz lost 107-114.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The Utah Jazz’s are on a five-game losing streak. That’s not great. But the Jazz have not been blown out, they haven’t been playing absolutely terrible basketball. They’ve pretty much been in every single one of these five games, with a chance to win.

The most they’ve lost by during this losing streak is 11. They lost to the Phoenix Suns on the road by just one point on Saturday and on Monday night at Vivint Arena they lost by just seven points, 114-107, to the Chicago Bulls.

There are two major things that I think are the problem in these losses.

  • First and foremost, the Jazz miss Mike Conley. There is just no way around that. He’s the only natural and pure point guard on this team, he has the most experience in that role, and there is a reason that all of his teammates and coaches all point to the “calming presence” that Conley provides when he is on the court.

Conley truly does determine the tempo of the game when he is playing and he never gets sped up and he reads everything like you would expect an All-Star point guard to read things.

“I think at times when the game gets tough, things aren’t going your way, you can go into your default mode and sometimes that’s when we play a little bit too much isolation,” head coach Will Hardy said after the Jazz’s loss on Monday. “The ball doesn’t move around as much and you know, that’s natural. So we just have to continue to emphasize the way that we play as a team.”

It’s nearly impossible to hear the head coach say something like that and not think that Conley would really help in exactly those situations.

  • The second thing is that this Jazz team has not done well in tough, late-game situations through this losing streak. 

Of course, this ties directly into the part about Conley being missing and how much he would really help in controlling the game in those sticky moments. But, it’s also really important for the Jazz’s players not named Conley to figure out how to navigate some of this without him.

That’s kind of the point of this season. They need to figure out who is going to be a part of the Jazz’s future and which players are able to progress and work together.

Take what happened at the end of Monday’s game for example. The Jazz were trailing the Bulls by just four points and had the ball with 3:46 left to play. That’s not a bad place to be in.

But then Kelly Olynyk turns the ball over and Collin Sexton commits a clear path foul, giving the Bulls two free throws and possession of the ball. So the Bulls score four more, push their lead to eight points, and on the Jazz’s next possession, Sexton turns the ball over and the Bulls score again.

“That was bad turnover by me,” Olynyk said. “Then it’s clear path. Obviously, that’s two and the ball. And now it goes from four to eight, and then we turn it over again, and now it’s 10. Now you’ve got a real uphill climb.”

Yeah, and when there’s less than three minutes to play it’s really deflating and hard to pull yourself out of those holes when it feels like the mistakes just keep compounding and snowballing.

Those moments where the Jazz lose control at the end are obviously not great when you’re trying to win a game. But those are really important moments for evaluating players or even getting a baseline of a player to then evaluate them later.

How are Olynyk and Sexton going to operate in a clutch situation on the floor together in March? If they are more settled and more focused and don’t let those mistakes get the best of them, then we are able to see clear progress.

I guess what I’m saying is, we didn’t know what this team was going to look like, and we still kind of don’t. But these are the things that we’ll be able to look back on near the end of the season and at least see what the team has learned and what they’ve turned into based on the early struggles.