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Analysis: A sluggish Utah Jazz team failed to capitalize on a great opportunity with Giannis Antetokounmpo sidelined

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Utah Jazz’s Jordan Clarkson, wearing white, looks to shoot

Utah Jazz’s Jordan Clarkson looks to shoot between Milwaukee Bucks during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022, in Milwaukee. The Bucks won 123-97.

Morry Gash, Associated Press

Midway through the third quarter of the Utah Jazz’s 123-97 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday, I sent out the following tweet:

Despite the fact the Jazz were only trailing by seven points at the time, there seemed to be no umph, no spark, no juice behind anything they were doing. I wondered if fans watching the game were feeling the same thing. The replies to the tweet only reinforced what I was thinking.

“Boring.”
“Effortlessly exhausting to watch.”
“Stinky.”
“Boring.”
“Sluggish.”
“Boring. No energy from our guys.”

The Jazz have had stretches during the course of a game this season in which they have lacked energy, but I can’t remember a full game where they felt this flat. In previous games, maybe they’ve started a little lackadaisical, but they’ve dug in and found something in the second half.

On Saturday night against a shorthanded Bucks team, the Jazz never found that extra gear, and they paid for it.

A missed opportunity

Shortly before tipoff the Jazz learned that they would be facing a Milwaukee squad without Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton.

Now that the Jazz are nearly healthy (still waiting on the return of Collin Sexton from a hamstring strain), they’re trying to make up ground that they lost when they were playing without Mike Conley and Lauri Markkanen and others that have missed a game here and there.

Of course, teams don’t want to get all their wins against starless teams, and yes every NBA team is full of players who are capable of winning games. But make no mistake, anyone who hears that they don’t have to deal with Antetokounmpo breathes a sigh of relief and the Jazz are going to absolutely look back on this as a missed opportunity.

“It’s frustrating,” Conley said. “We had an opportunity going in with a couple of their players out... That aside, we’ve gotta be better as a team with the way we come out with our mentality.”

In the Jazz’s defense, all of their preparation was under the assumption that they’d be facing Antetokounmpo and they put in a lot of film work and work during shootaround this morning, planning to make life hard for Antetokounmpo.

“It does change what you do, but good teams do it,” Conley said. “No excuses.”

Failing to apply pressure

The Jazz were not physical in a game in which they should have been. The officials were really loose with their whistle, not calling little ticky-tack stuff, and that should have given the Jazz a green light to attack the paint and to play more physical defense against the Bucks’ attack.

Instead, the Jazz settled for 47 3-pointers (well above their season average of 39 per game), let just a tiny bit of physicality on their initial actions derail them, and didn’t offer enough resistance to the Bucks game plan.

“We’ve shown the ability to still attack the paint and attack the basket and tonight I thought that not playing through that first bump deterred us early,” Will Hardy said. “I think when we go back and watch the film we’ll be looking for opportunities that we could have tried to play a little bit more physically downhill through that initial bump. Because yeah, six free throw attempts is definitely indicative of not putting enough pressure on the other team.”

The Jazz were outrebounded, were obviously outscored, and were generally outrun by the Bucks. That means that physicality, focus and energy were lacking.

“It was one of those games where it just seemed like everybody on the team was running with boots on, not gym shoes,” Conley said. “Everybody was a step slow.”

Moving past a tough loss

So how do the Jazz move on from this? How do they look at the fact that they were thoroughly outworked and then prepare for the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday?

The simple answer is that they have to employ some short-term memory loss.

“You’ve kind of got it put this one in the rearview mirror, flush it and just play basketball,” Kelly Olynyk said.

The good news is that the Jazz haven’t had many nights like this. They know that they are not a team that just gives up or stays complacent or doesn’t show any fire. They’re going to want to learn from their mistakes here, but they don’t need to look at this as a problem.

If things were continue in this fashion, then we’d be talking about it differently. But as of right now, this is an anomaly, not a trend.