NEW YORK — This certainly isn’t how the Utah Jazz wanted the trip to go. A 2-4 record with back-to-back losses at the end is less than ideal. But here we are.
It was the longest road trip of the season — a six-game expedition through Houston, New Orleans, Washington, Charlotte, Brooklyn and New York — and it was illuminating in both good and bad ways.
Here are my biggest takeaways from the trip:
Good, bad and ugly
There’s the Utah Jazz team that went on a tear through late December and early January, winning 15 out of 19 games. There’s the Jazz team that played in those losses and few in prior to that run where they lost their way a little but still showed some fight despite a few glaring mistakes. Then there’s the Jazz we’ve seen the last few days.
When the Jazz are good they look like world beaters made up of misfits and castoffs who are scrappy and quick and full of spunk. They’re the experimental group led by a young head coach who are taking the NBA world by storm.
But that’s contrasted so incredibly when they play the way they did on this road trip. Wins over the Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards were expected and frankly any other outcome would have been a catastrophe. But the way that they’ve lost the other four games of this six-game trip have been mystifying.
Jazz head coach Will Hardy said that this team is not as good as people were saying during that run that started in December and that the Jazz aren’t as bad as their early-season record indicated. And that’s fair. It makes a lot of sense for this team to be exactly what their record indicates.
But to explain the disjointed, effortless, confused style we’ve seen the last few days is not as simple.
This could be a really important point of the season for the Jazz. When they return home, they need to be able to regroup and find what it was that made them look like a team because right now they look like a bunch of guys who aren’t sure what they’re supposed to be doing.
The bad trends
Failing to find guys after shots go up, giving up on rebounds and being out of position to be able to defend, and not being able to defend the hot hand when it’s obvious to everyone in the building are just a few of the issues that come to mind when it comes to what has gone wrong in these games.
Then there’s the way that third quarters have turned into the point in the game where the Jazz spiral and their inability to focus on the right play.
“We’ve got some trends lately that aren’t very good,” Hardy said. “The game is not played in a vacuum, and every possession is not equal. There are moments of the game where we have to understand time and score. And this is two games in a row where we are right there in the third quarter, and we lose the plot.”
All of the bad trends have so much to do with effort. You don’t have to be the most skilled player to run faster or to find your man when a shot goes up or to make the right pass or to set a good screen. Those are things that have made the Jazz pesky and tough in the past, even in losses. If they lose sight of those things, then it negates all of the good work that has gone into building the identity of this team.
The trade deadline looms
I’ll definitely have more to say on this in the coming days, but I get the sense that this team is playing a little bit distracted.
There are a number of players whose names have been included in trade rumors and some that have been reported to have been included in possible trade conversations. It is not easy to play good basketball with all of that noise. That’s not an excuse, it’s just the fact of the matter.
All of that being said, the direction of the Jazz is not very clear to those of us not named Danny Ainge or Justin Zanik.
I think that there’s also a feeling from the players on the roster that things aren’t necessarily clear either. If this is a middle of the road team (it definitely is) then where do they go from here? Are they buyers or sellers? Are they going to get better or worse? Are they going to stay the same?
The direction of the team is going to really have an impact on how much the Jazz players care, and without knowing exactly who will be here or what the direction is, it’s easy to get varied performances and see a lot of stuff that doesn’t make sense.