Under different circumstances, the Utah Jazz might be upset after a loss. They might hang their heads and lose sleep trying to figure out what went wrong and what’s missing.
If this was a team that had lost more than two games since Jan. 22, they might be worried.
But this Utah Jazz team is intent on not losing sight of the larger goal, which is to be playing their best when the playoffs start so they can contend for a title. For that goal to be realized, the Jazz have to be challenged, examine their shortcomings and find ways to improve.
So when their nine-game win streak was snapped by the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night, the Jazz immediately looked at the loss as a chance to get better.
“I think this is a bump in the road, but it’s a good one in my opinion,” Donovan Mitchell said. “I think this is one that we can look at and say, ‘OK, we stay with them but this is what separated the game.’ I’m proud of the way we played and competed, but there’s definitely room for improvement.”
The Jazz were up against one of the best teams in the league who were angry about a loss to the Jazz just two days earlier. The Clippers were also at full strength for the first time in weeks with the return of Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Nicolas Batum.
The Clippers came out strong defensively and at multiple points held double-digit leads over the Jazz. The Jazz made a lot of mistakes, and even so, they were right there at the end of the game, threatening a comeback in the final moments.
“For us to play a game like we played tonight and to be able to finish the way we did and execute down the stretch against a good team like this, I think it’s a great lesson,” Mike Conley said.
In fact, there were many great lessons provided to the Jazz on Friday, and less than 30 minutes after the game ended, without having reviewed film, Mitchell was recounting some of the things that the Jazz could have done better.
There were of course the rebounds that were so damaging, especially the ones which allowed the Clippers to capitalize on second-chance opportunities. Two costly offensive boards by Leonard in the fourth quarter particularly were on Mitchell’s mind.
Royce O’Neale was once again tasked with guarding the best player on the floor — this time Leonard — and Mitchell pointed out that the rest of the Jazz players have to communicate better and help in traffic to crash the boards when O’Neale has had his hands full and is so focused. There wasn’t blame placed at O’Neale’s feet for the missed boards. Instead Mitchell asked the question, “What can the rest of us do to help in that situation?”
Mitchell pointed to a deep and off-balance 3-pointer that he took and missed only to have Lou Williams score on the other end and create a seven-point swing.
“Bad shot selection,” he said.
The Jazz could have been more forceful in transition on both sides of the ball, Rudy Gobert could have played stronger at the rim, O’Neale could have been less hesitant on offense, the Jazz could have passed harder and with more speed. If they do those things, they’re probably walking away on Friday with a 10th consecutive win.
“These are the games that we talked about,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “Obviously it’d be nice to win it, but we’re trying to get better, and that’s where our mindset is.”
The Jazz aren’t going to win every game, and the Clippers aren’t going to be the last tough opponent they face this season. That’s a good thing. The Jazz need to learn these lessons and improve before the regular season ends.
The last thing they want is to learn tough lessons in the playoffs. That’s what the old Utah Jazz did, and this Utah Jazz team wants to be different.