SALT LAKE CITY — Today we’re going to talk about the positive takeaways from the Utah Jazz’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night.
I was pretty critical of the Jazz after their loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday. I wasn’t the only one. It was a horrible performance on both ends of the floor from a team that should know better than to make some of the mistakes it made. And, even though they lost again Monday, falling to 1-2 so far in the bubble with five games left before the playoffs, they looked like a completely different team — and in a good way.
First and foremost there was a shift in energy that was like night and day. While not always executed perfectly, the Jazz seemed to be engaged on defense against the Lakers in a way that usually takes them some time to warm up to.
“We did a great job on the defensive glass, I think that was one of the things,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said after the game. “They’re so good and effective scoring in the paint, whether it’s on post-up or drives, they really put pressure on the rim and I thought we did a better job of coming over and helping one another.”
That’s really half the battle here, just showing up, putting in the effort, being in the right position and living with the results. When the Jazz actually make the right rotations, move quickly on defensive help, crash the boards, get into a defensive stance, hold out their arms and create size, there’s not much more you can ask for.
Sometimes the opponent is going to blow by a player. Hopefully the guys behind him are ready to slide and help. Sometimes someone is going to shoot over the top. Hopefully Rudy Gobert and Co. will be boxing out and ready to run should the shot miss.
I know that these can seem like really basic basketball principles, but sometimes NBA players get caught up in all the little nuances and minutiae of a scheme or set or what 100 different people have said to them over the course of a day that a return to basics can remind them of what’s really important.
In addition to a general spark of effort and energy, the Jazz made quick decisions against the Lakers. Ball movement was better with less hesitation, the Jazz took more threes (making them is a different story), they battled through foul trouble without getting blown out the second Gobert left the floor, Mike Conley continued to be a patient and consistent presence, and Donovan Mitchell was aggressive from every angle.
“I’m happy we got up 40 threes, we’re going to have to make more shots to win but I thought we had really good energy and activity on defense,” Snyder said. “We got good contributions off the bench when guys got in foul trouble. Tony Bradley and Juwan Morgan were able to come in and hold it down for us ... there’s a lot of good things to look at.”
Sure, there are still things that are concerning, like Jordan Clarkson having some really rough games, the Jazz seemingly becoming unable to hit an open 3-pointer, continued hesitation from Joe Ingles, and the team’s tendency to fall into iso ball when things start to tighten up in a game. The Jazz are well aware that they have room to improve.
The most promising sign is that the list of things they need to clean up is significantly smaller than it was three days ago. The Jazz can be better. They held their own against the Western Conference-leading Lakers on a night when Anthony Davis was nearly unstoppable, and that’s not bad considering they were getting blown out of the water by the Thunder on Saturday.