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‘We’re competing with ourselves’: Utah Jazz focused on avoiding 2-game losing streak before All-Star break

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Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) is fouled as he goes to the basket against New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball, left, and center Steven Adams in the second half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Monday, March 1, 2021. Mitchell and the Jazz will try to avoid losing a second-straight game when they face the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday.

Gerald Herbert, Associated Press

Three of the Utah Jazz’s eight losses this season have come over the last six games, the most recent of which was a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday night.

On Wednesday the Jazz will be in Philadelphia to face the 76ers in the final game before the All-Star break and desperately hoping to avoid losing a second-straight game, something the Jazz have only done once this season when they lost back-to-back games against the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets on Jan. 5 and 6.

“The biggest thing is just matching effort, attention to detail and not losing two in a row.” — Donovan Mitchell

“The biggest thing is just matching effort, attention to detail and not losing two in a row,” Donovan Mitchell said after the 129-124 loss to the Pelicans.

That loss seemed to strike a nerve with the Jazz players more than other losses this season because the Jazz felt that they had the right game plan, that they knew what New Orleans’ attack was going to be and they just didn’t execute what they’d been talking about leading up to the game.

“I think it’s tough to accept because it was stuff that we can control and we knew this is how they’re going to come out and we didn’t execute,” Mitchell said. “We’re all pretty upset about this because it’s stuff that we know. It wasn’t like we were tired. We didn’t have the urgency and that can’t happen if we wanted to be the team we want to be.”

Failing to stop drives, control the paint, fight for rebounds, make good decisions in pressure situations and play competent defense throughout the game are certainly not things that can happen on Wednesday if the Jazz are hoping to get a win over the East-leading Sixers.

With the best record in the league, the Jazz are getting more accustomed to the fact that every team is bringing their A-game against the Jazz and hoping to use a win over them as a boost of confidence. Once the hunter, the Jazz are now the team being hunted in the NBA.

“We play free play, with joy, and teams want to kill that joy and rightfully so,” Mitchell said. “We’ve just got to be ready for it.”

As the Jazz have been saying since the beginning of the season, playing well in February and March is great, but that’s not what really matters. They have to work to perfect every aspect of what they do collectively so that they can be playing their best basketball at the end of the regular season and heading into the playoffs.

That doesn’t mean that the road will be easy. The Jazz will be hard-pressed to find a single game from now to the end of the season where they aren’t getting attacked from every angle as teams try to knock them out of their league-leading position.

“We’re competing with ourselves,” Rudy Gobert said. “The teams and the players see us as a challenge and it brings the best out of them every single night. ... They come out and they play great, they play hard and it’s almost like a playoff game every night.”

In addition to not wanting to lose two in a row, the Jazz are also hoping to head into the All-Star break on a positive note and a win in Philadelphia would help to erase the bad feelings from their loss in New Orleans.

The Sixers are coming off an impressive win over the Indiana Pacers on Monday, which saw Joel Embiid score 26 points to go with 13 rebounds and five assists as the Sixers shot 42.9% from 3-point range. The Jazz know that in order to go into the halfway point of the season with some momentum, they’ll have to show up on the defensive end.

“We’ve got to bounce back and play great defense against Philly,” Bojan Bogdanovic said. “We want to try to get a win before the break.”