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Damian Lillard scores 51 as Portland Trail Blazers easily dispose of Utah Jazz

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Death, taxes, and guards scoring 50 or more on the Utah Jazz.

Utah Jazz v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

The Utah Jazz dropped their fourth loss in a row as they watched Portland easily slip into the paint or hit anything they wanted behind the three point line. The role of guard scoring 50 or more tonight was played by Damian Lillard who scored 51 points on 17 of 29 shooting while dishing out 12 assists. Dame starting going full Dr. Manhattan five games ago has now scored 36 or more points in 6 straight games and scored 50 or more in three of them. Dame became the second player in four games to score 50 or more against Utah. If you bring that down to 36 points, Dame is the third to score 36 or more against Utah in the last four games. It’s a trainwreck, but the game didn’t start out that way.

The beginning of this game, it appears Utah had finally got its act together. Mike Conley looked like he was fired out of a gun and scored 8 points really quick on 4 of 5 shooting with 4 minutes left in the 1st quarter. Donovan was cooking. Bojan was hitting. The Jazz defense even appeared to put the clamps down on Portland. Then Portland cut Utah’s 11 point lead down to 1 by the end of the 1st quarter. Utah and Portland battled it out for much of the second with five lead changes, but then Portland put their foot on the accelerator. Dame had checked the time and it read DAME. Utah never was close to striking distance for most of the second half.

Mike Conley looked good in his return to the starting lineup. He had 22 points on 9 of 20 shooting and was 4 of 6 from the three point line. Donovan scored 25 on 11 of 21 shooting. But the Jazz’s offense is not the problem with the Jazz. Their defense meanwhile has the Check Engine light flashing. Over the past two weeks their defensive rating is checking in at 113.2, good for 16th in the league. The even bigger problem is it’s trending in the wrong direction.

Rational Reaction #1: Quin Snyder has a rotation problem on his hands

With injuries, trades, and releases, Quin Snyder has had to create substitution pattern that more resembles a patchwork quilt than an assembly line. It’s handstitched and can’t scale. The biggest issue? Quin is using Donovan as a life preserver for a REALLY struggling bench. As Mike Conley moved to the starting lineup, Royce O’Neale got to have his turn on the Jazz themed Titanic bench. Without Rudy Gobert out there, the bench starts taking on water fast. When the starting lineup is on the court, the Jazz outscored Portland by 8 points. Every other lineup was outscored by a collective 25 points.

That means Quin is trying to do everything he can to stop the bleeding and that means Donovan Mitchell is staying out there with the bench long into the beginning of the third quarter and then his rest coming when most opposing team’s starters are returning for the final stretch run of the 4th. That leaves Utah without their most lethal offensive threat while opposing offenses get to do absolute damage to a lineup that as we just discussed gets outscored and takes on heavy water.

What’s the fix? May be time to remove the life preserver and get a full look at the damage from the iceberg in the hull without one of Utah’s top duo playing lifeguard. Utah already has to bail this bench out, and we know they can’t start duct taping the hull back together until the entirety of the starting lineup is all out there together. Jazz need that starting lineup ready to form Voltron a lot sooner than 4-6 minutes left in the 4th quarter when the game is already out of hand.

Rational Reaction #2: A better backup big is a mirage

I will admit even I have fallen prey to the idea that if Utah just gets a backup big that’s an improvement on Ed Davis and Tony Bradley that the Jazz’s bench will be fixed. But I don’t feel good about that diagnosis anymore. Utah’s perimeter defense (or lack thereof) has made me think that even if they did, that big would be getting Peter Principled into a role that no big man other than Rudy Gobert is capable of performing.

The bench is heavily outscored once Rudy Gobert leaves the game. When Utah had Derrick Favors they had the INSANE luxury of having a back up big who is actually a Top 10 big in the NBA. But it came at a cost. That cost was offensive necessities. That duo of Gobert and Favors also hid a lot of the Jazz’s perimeter defense shortcomings which are so glaringly evident now.

The Jazz don’t need a better big man or more scorers, they need better wing defenders. This may make Jordan Clarkson—who has been amazing with Utah—the redundancy. Crazy enough, the Memphis Grizzlies have a piece in Andre Igoudala that could help Utah with perimeter defense and Jordan Clarkson could fill a scoring need for Memphis in their playoff push. But beyond the speculation, Utah right now needs their perimeter defenders to be better or this four game losing streak is not close to wrapping up.

Overreaction #1: The Jazz are the Theranos of the NBA

After their big winning streak and run on the worst of the worst in the NBA, the Utah Jazz had big Elizabeth Holmes energy and started writing checks that they weren’t good for. They pulled off a big comeback against the Mavs, but even in that game, they looked exposed. Now they look like frauds. They’re still a good team. They’re a playoff team and that’s something a lot of basement dwellers would do anything for (other than draft Luka Doncic, of course). But they’re not elite. They’re not worth of the rarified air that exists with the Lakers and Bucks. The Jazz are the field.

That’s not a bad thing, but it can still be a disappointing thing. When you see a team push all their chips to the center of the table because they really think that they finally got the winning hand to beat the house and they STILL leave the casino floor empty handed, it’s disappointing. It’s disappointing because the options for rising high and hitting your ceiling are very limited. This is the other side of being a risk taker in the NBA, sometimes by doing the big trade and getting the big name, it doesn’t work the way you hoped. Kawhi Leonard worked in Toronto, but for every Kawhi Leonard success, there’s a hundred “Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis pair up in New York!” failures.

This isn’t even a failure. It’s a disappointment. Utah will make the playoffs. They have a good chance of getting to the second round. But their moves from this summer did not get them in to the penthouse floor of the NBA. They’re still at the party. Still having a good time, but they’re just not on the VIP list. Unfortunately, they hyped up their fans that they had the hookup. That they knew a guy who could get them in. So the DJ may be fire, the drinks may be poppin, and the vibe Instagramable, but we thought we were going to the top floor.

Overreaction #2: This losing streak might not be over yet...

Here are the Jazz’s next 5 games:

The good news is Utah plays a lot of games at home mixed with time off for the All-Star game. That gives Utah time to practice, rest, refocus, and get it together. Two games that could get complicated by the NBA Trade Deadline are the Jazz’s next two. They play Denver the day before and then Portland the day after the Trade Deadline. If they make a move on Wednesday, they could be shorthanded or out of whack for two games. If they make a move at the buzzer, that player may not be ready in time for Houston as they will go on the road right after Portland.

Underreaction #1: Losing is not fun.

Just read this thread from Matt Moore (@hpbasketball). It basically is just play after play of “what in the world was Utah’s gameplan anyway?” Utah is getting cooked the same way after four straight games. This defense is almost the same defense we’ve seen during all those games.