The NBA has added in these little miniseries this season, to cut down on travel and to make the schedule work for teams a bit more, and so the New Orleans Pelicans are in Utah for a two-game series that began on Tuesday night.

It did not go well for the Pelicans, who had a seven-game win streak snapped by the Utah Jazz in a blowout game.

The Jazz are deservedly going to gain a ton of confidence from a win against the No. 1 team in the Western Conference that has been on a tear lately. But the good news for the Pelicans is that they will get a shot at revenge on Thursday night when the teams meet again.

So tonight, I want to focus on two things, one that’s more specific to the Pelicans and one that’s more big picture.

Defending the 3

The Jazz held the Pelicans to just 4 of 27 from the 3-point line on Tuesday night. But “held” is a little insincere of a way to describe things.

Because the Jazz’s defense overall had been really good against the Pelicans, because the Pelicans were missing a ton of shots, and because when you look at the box score you see that New Orleans had such a horrific 3-point shooting night, it can make you easily believe that the Jazz were really good at not letting guys get open looks.

But, upon review, that was not really the case. After watching all of the Pelicans’ 3-point shot attempts, it feels like the Jazz got really lucky that the Pelicans were so horrible from deep on Tuesday.

Jazz getting their starters back ahead of two-game series against West-leading Pelicans
3 keys to the Utah Jazz’s 121-100 win over the New Orleans Pelicans

“I would say if they shot those same 27 again, they’re gonna make more than four,” Jazz head coach Will Hardy said after the Jazz’s 121-100 win.

“That’s a very good team we just played and there were for sure five or six that while they’re in the air I’m thinking, ‘those are good.’ So, it’s about us watching the film and trying to make sure that we try to limit the good looks for their good shooters. We can’t sit here and say, ‘Oh, they only made four we did a great job.’ I think limiting them to 27 is good, but they have some very, very capable shooters on that team.”

Trey Murphy is shooting 40.1% from 3 this year, Larry Nance Jr. is shooting 45%, Zion Williamson is an average shooter from deep, Jonas Valanciunas shoots 36.6% from 3, Jose Alvarado is shooting 39% from 3, but they all went a combined 0 of 14 from deep and for the most part they were open shots.

To the Jazz’s credit there were a few closeouts and a couple of well-contested shots among those 14, but they were certainly not what I would call well-defended.

I’m not saying to this take away from what the Jazz did on Tuesday night. They were incredible against the Pelicans and they did a great job defending overall. Hardy even called the game the Jazz’s best defensive performance of the season and I agree with that. But when we are looking ahead at Thursday’s game, you can certainly not bank on the Pelicans shooting so poorly and you can bet that they are going to come out more aggressive. So the Jazz need to prepare for that possibility.

The Jazz’s starters return

For the first time since Nov. 19, the Jazz played with their normal starting lineup intact. With the return of Mike Conley, Lauri Markkanen and Jordan Clarkson, the Jazz just looked like a different team than they have recently.

While the Jazz do not have any top-tier NBA stars on the roster (I understand that Markkanen is starting to look like a star and that Conley and Clarkson are stars in their roles) they looked like world beaters when they got out to a 10-3 start to the season and I believe that is because the Jazz really are a team that is the sum of its parts. The margin for error and talent in order for this team to be successful is much smaller than some other teams in the league.

If you just take Conley out of the equation, the Jazz don’t have someone on the roster with the experience and court vision that can lead them down the stretch in tough games.

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Without Markkanen, the Jazz lose the dynamic weapon that has made them so hard to guard and so lethal this season.

Without Clarkson, the Jazz don’t have the same kind of offensive pressure that they otherwise would.

The Jazz have a lot of young players behind those guys that they are trying to develop and bring along and turn into great players, but it’s just not enough. So it’s not all that surprising to me that the Jazz played so well on Tuesday.

This is both a good and bad thing. I think the Jazz’s ceiling when all their players are healthy is really, really high and that they are a difficult matchup for almost anyone. But with even one player out, it’s hard for them to replicate anything. For now, the good news is that they are healthy and got a really impressive win against the hottest team in the league. They’ll get another crack at it on Thursday.

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