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Thoughts on the Heat and Mavs Games

Odds are there was nobody coming to set a screen to help Devin out of the jam.
Odds are there was nobody coming to set a screen to help Devin out of the jam.

I was going to write a game recap of the Mavs game. But I didn't see it live, and Synergy is drunk right now, so I'll have to go with something else. It will kind of be about the game, kind of about the Heat win, and then something else altogether.

* * *

First of all, let's get a major point of these games stated upfront and right away: The Heat and Mavs are two very good teams. To split the games against the on a back-to-back is a good thing for a mediocre team like the Jazz.

I watched the Heat game with my kids. I've mentioned my six-year-old several times, and it bears repeating the kid is absolutely a blast to watch games with. He gets so into it. And it gets me into the games like I'm a crazy 13-year-old again. We were yelling and cheering and high five-ing each other more during the Heat game than any other this year. We were also freaking out at various points in the fourth quarter.

My son gave out several gems of wisdom during the game:

  • LeBron James needs to shave his beard. Or at least move it to where beards are supposed to go.
  • You can tell the Heat are the bad guys because they have black uniforms
  • Dwyane Wade is good, and LeBron James is really good. But the rest of the team is pretty bad ... huh, Dad. (exact quote).
  • He's worried that when he's ready to go to the NBA that the Heat will pick him. He wishes that he could just choose any team he wants—then he'd pick the Jazz. But he'll make sure he gets to the Jazz as soon as he can. He won't play for the Heat forever.
  • Where's Alec Burks? Why don't they put him in? — Ye was yelling this over and over in the second half.
  • It's not hard to be a good team. You just have to play good defense, make sure you get the rebounds, and take smart shots. (he said this—word for word)
  • It's funner when they make a shot when someone passes to them. Then they go to each other and say: "thanks for the pass" and "thanks for the shot". If nobody passes to them then he just says I'm amazing. Nobody else gets to be good too. I think LeBron James likes it better when he shoots but nobody passes to him.

The fan in me goes crazy during games. I really, really want my team to win. I really, really want my favorite guys to play well. I was truly going nuts during the Heat game. It was one of the most fun games of the year.

* * *

The analytic side of me takes over after games, and it looks at the game a bit differently. I want to see trends. I want to see signs of improvement. I want to go back over a game in my mind and see things getting better.

And that's where my frustration comes from regarding the Heat and Mavs games (I've watched to the 4:00 spot of the 2nd quarter against the Mavs before Synergy went wacko on me).

Individual wins and losses don't matter. The best of teams occasionally lose. The worst of teams occasionally win. What matters is how teams win or lose. What matters are the habits. If the Jazz are to improve, their habits must change to ones that tend to produce wins.

And that's why I am just flabbergasted by the obtuseness of our team. I really think Raja's "we consistently do dumb s*** " may be their official slogan. They just can't seem to help themselves, from front office to coaching staff to players.

We Don't Have a Superstar

I wish the powers-that-be could get this into their skulls. We don't have a player—not right now—who can carry the team on his back. We did two years ago. He's so good that he can make a Nets-Bobcats game worth watching. But we don't have anyone like him now.

This doesn't mean our players stink. Al and Millsap, our leaders, are good. You don't get named as notable All-Star snubs two years in a row without being good.

But they can't carry the team on their backs. And when the team expects them to be superstars, makes a game plan as if they are, etc., etc., etc., do you know what happens? Sap goes into a major slump. And Al shoots 22% in the clutch. Seriously, that's his clutch FG% this year. lists that as the 16th worst clutch FG% in the entire NBA this year.

There will never be a good team that Al and Sap carry. And that's okay. Very, very few players can do it. It doesn't mean they aren't quality players. It doesn't mean that they aren't starter material.

But it does mean the team should stop acting like they can carry them to glory.

What should have been the lesson from the Heat game

The Jazz did a few magical and wonderful things in the Miami Heat game. They did them when they built their leads. Several times the Jazz built a lead, had the Heat fight back and cut the lead, only to withstand the run and eventually build the lead back up.

First, the Jazz played great team defense. You could highlight several individual players (Hayward on Wade and Howard on LeBron—in the first half anyway—come to mind). But it was really a total team effort. Everyone chipped in. It was so much fun to watch.

Second, the Jazz played great team offense with a balanced attack. They did this against Houston too—hard screens from the beginning of the plays to the end, good cuts, snappy passes. The ran plays with lots of options, and the shots and scoring spread out accordingly.

Put those two things together, and they built leads that withstood runs from the opposition.

And you know what? That's what successful teams do when they don't have a superstar. They spread the offense around, they go for balance, they realize that five guys working together can accomplish so much more.

And watching the Jazz do this against the Heat I wondered how good the team could be if they would do it all the time. We've seen teams go for this approach when there is no superstar. The best, of course, was the Detroit Pistons that won the title in 2004. They may have been lucky to win the title, but it wasn't a fluke they were in position to take advantage of an epic Lakers meltdown. It was not a fluke they were a very, very good team for several years in a row.

They played with balance, defense, and teamwork. At their best, they had four of their five starters taking more than eleven shots per game. And their famously offensively challenged center (Ben Wallace) took nine shots per game.

But back to the Jazz ... well, it was fun when they played this way against Houston and Miami. They looked like a genuinely good team.

The reason to a little feel bummed

But the Jazz showed that they aren't dedicated to this. I don't think they truly believe in it—the coaches don't believe in the concept of balance, and they don't believe in all the players—not when things get close or tough.

Sirius Black told Harry Potter that you judge a man's character by looking at how he treats his inferiors, not how he treats his equals or superiors. Well, maybe can you judge a team's character by how it plays when things get tough—not when things are going well, but when things are hard and the game is on the line.

And what did the Jazz believe in? Josh Howard on LeBron James. He got gassed and killed in the second half. The Jazz had three other swingmen who were playing hard and effective defense: CJ, Hayward, and Burks. Was there really no other option than play Howard for 40 minutes?

Of course there were other options. But in the end, the Jazz didn't believe in them.

And we can look at the same on offense. What did they do when the game was on the line? They abandoned the effective offense from earlier and hoped post iso's via Big Al would save the day. And sadly many remember the Devin miracle off an Al iso throw-back-to-the-PG pass and thinks "yes, it worked."

It didn't work. Well, it worked that time, but not for the rest of the quarter. The starters lost as much of the big lead than the subs. More if you include the Heat run in the third quarter. You can look that up. Those post iso's helped change a small Jazz lead into a small Heat lead (a lead that they would have hung on to had Wade not made a couple huge mistakes in the last minute).

Yes, when the game was on the line, the Jazz showed that they don't really trust what works. They didn't trust the same players that helped them build an 18 point lead. They abandoned what helped them withstand every Heat run to that point. Instead they trust what doesn't work. The same thing that didn't work all February. And it didn't work again against the Heat.

What I saw against the Mavs

Gordon Hayward's dad tweeted that the Jazz played selfishly against the Mavs. And it got him some eye rolls and snarks on Twitter.

And yet, from what I saw he was exactly right.

During the good stretches of basketball against Houston and Miami, a hallmark was how much the Jazz helped each other get good shots via screens and cuts. This was totally absent in the (almost) two quarters of the Mavs game I saw. They passed around, sure. They weren't selfish that way. But they did nothing to help each other get good shots.

And nobody on the team is good enough to carry the team without help.

And so again, we see good strategy abandoned for shoddy play.

Against the Heat I thought the dumb offense to end the game was very much on the coaching staff. They were the ones who obviously chose to not trust team play.

From what I saw against the Mavs it seemed more like the players themselves. They were the ones not helping each other. It looked like they didn't believe in each other. And why should they? During one of the few screens, Josh Howard ignored the screen, went the other way, ran straight into his defender, and dropped the ball out of bounds. He didn't accept the help. And Howard certainly wasn't the only one who did stuff like this.

Selfish basketball. Prideful basketball. I can make stuff happen all by myself basketball.

I didn't see the big comeback, so I don't have anything to say about that now. Let me know if the Jazz changed things—if they went back to balance, defense, and teamwork. Because they sure weren't in the first half.

Final Thoughts

I am still waiting to see signs that the Jazz will change for the better. That they will consistently work together with the roster they have instead of the roster they pretend they have. That they will consistently work with long-term vision instead of the short-sighted decisions.

I'm waiting and waiting and waiting.

Up until the fourth quarter against Miami I thought the Jazz may have found something good. That maybe we had some steps in the right direction. But no. As soon as there was a little tension in the games, as soon as the other team had legit opportunities to win, they were very quick to abandon the teamwork and balance that had worked so well.

And so I'm still waiting.

Maybe tonight ...