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The Utah Jazz bounce back from a hard place to pound the rock against the San Antonio Spurs

Can you believe this is the first time these two teams play this season?

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Utah Jazz Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Look, every team lays eggs. Last year’s Jazz lost to the Wolves behind a career 50 point night from Derrick Rose. The Lakers recently got blown out by the Celtics by 32 points in spite of the return of Anthony Davis, the Clippers lost to the Grizzlies 140-114 earlier this month, and the Celtics lost

The point is, good teams lay eggs sometimes, and last game wasn’t too surprising given the emotions from the unfortunate passing of NBA legend Kobe Bryant. What’s important is how the Jazz bounce back into the swing of the season.

The Spurs (20-26) are having probably the worst season ever since the year David Robinson got hurt and sat out a bunch of games to tank, wherein the Spurs got Tim Duncan and immediately went back to contending. Only, this time, they still have more or less the same team as last year. The declines of former all star LaMarcus Aldridge’s decline (19.1p/7.5r/2.3a vs 21.3p/9.2r/2.4a last year) and Rudy Gay, alongside losses in bench production from Marco Bellinelli and Davis Bertans have made the difference between a 48-win team and 36-win rate team, which was not helped by a 8 game loss streak in November (4-12 in that month). Pop has resorted to starting good friend of the Jazz Trey Lyles at center, with Jakob Poëtl’s development stalling and Bryn Forbes, Dejounte Murray, and Derrick White all failing to make the leap so far. (Remember when people said Derrick White and Lonnie Walker were better than Donovan Mitchell?) Moreover, Aldridge will be out against the Jazz with a sprained thumb.

In spite of all this, the Spurs are always still dangerous. They remain one of six teams to beat the Bucks this season and have additional wins over Boston, Clippers, and Miami. Betting against Pops’ Spurs is like assuming the house is vacant in Resident Evil, it’s never vacant and they can return to life at any time. Hopefully Utah has learned a valuable lesson from the Rockets game on Monday that you can never underestimate your opponent, especially when that opponent is a long-time playoff team.

Game Info

When: Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020 • 6:30 PM MT

Where: AT&T Center, San Antonio, Texas

TV: AT&T Sports Net Rocky Mountain

Radio: 97.5 FM | 1280 AM The Zone

What to watch for

Houston Rockets v Utah Jazz Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Perimeter Defense

The Houston defense has always given the Utah Jazz fits, that was to be expected on Monday night. But what was unexpected was to see Utah’s defense collapsing in on itself. Rudy Gobert was being pulled all over the court and couldn’t rely on anyone else in a purple jersey to have his six. That was partly due to Houston’s 5 out, all guard lineup that they threw out at Utah unapologetically. But the other part was Utah’s other guys were getting flat out cooked on the perimeter.

It’s not just one game either. Over the past couple weeks as they have had to play Dallas, Los Angeles, and Houston, their juggernaut of a squad had become mortal. They have a -1.5 Net Rating and their defensive rank drops to middle of the pack. Now that seems good when you think that they’re playing a Top 10 offense. If you derail them to an average offensive team, that’s great, but then offensively they’re grinding gears.

The Mike Conley question

If you’re living in Facebook Groups or on Twitter the past couple nights, Mike Conley has got a lot of talk. It’s part support, part worry, but mostly navigating the unknown. Conley has neither been an overwhelming negative nor positive factor on the court this season. Overall, according to Cleaning the Glass, when Mike Conley is on the court the Jazz only outscore their opponents by 2.0 points. While that’s still positive, that’s not $32 million of positive.

It’s fair to say Mike Conley isn’t meeting expectations thus far in the season. It’s also fair to ask if he will come close to that at any point this season. The Jazz’s contention window unfortunately is putting external pressure on Utah’s calculus when they navigate his full return into the lineup. Adding to the complexity is a Trade Deadline that approaches and is only 8 days away.

The season is more than halfway done, teams are pivoting toward playoff pushes, and accountability has to be placed. Utah’s gambit on Mike Conley has not paid off to this point. Utah—like all other teams in this league—are looking at their roster before the deadline and deciding whether they got the juice for a playoff run. They also have to decide if they got the right players in the right roles for that playoff run. Whether that means Utah decides Conley has to moonlight as Howard Eisley for the rest of the season, gets a chance to break back into the starting lineup, or they take a HUGE risk in pivoting this shortly after acquiring him and move him, Utah has a decision to make 46 games into this season that most would agree is close to the worst case scenario when projecting out this trade.

What would shut down talk online and around the league really quick is if tonight is the first of many games in which Conley FINALLY catches momentum in Utah and consistently produces. Utah’s fans would be right there. We dig underdog and comeback stories. Utah’s DNA is that of the underdog and underestimated. Conley would get rapid support if he started showing out. Here’s to hoping that starts today.

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