The Utah Jazz are reeling, on the ropes, teetering on the edge of disaster, languishing in losses, and whatever other metaphors for struggling one can come up with. Simply stated, a team with two All-Stars has somehow managed to put together a five-game losing streak right after a stretch with 19 wins in 21 outings.
How this is possible is beyond the realms of known science.
With this context, tonight’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers becomes yet another seeming “must-win” game in a long string of “must-win” games if the Jazz want to retain some semblance of dignity or clout as a supposed top team in the West.
When: Friday, Feb. 7, 2020 • 8:30 PM MT
Where: Vivint Smart Home Arena • Salt Lake City, UT
Radio: 97.5 FM | 1280 AM The Zone, Altitude Sports 92.5 FM
What to watch for
I mean, you always set your watch to Dame Time whenever Lillard comes to town, but somehow there’s more to this visit than normal.
The All-NBA guard is cooling down from an absolutely absurd stretch of games. Between Jan. 20 and Feb. 1 (six games), Lillard averaged 48.8 points, 10.2 assists, 7.2 rebounds (just 3.2 turnovers) and did so on shooting splits of .548/.570/.923. You don’t need The Elias Sports Bureau or Basketball Reference to tell you how few players have done that to recognize how completely insane those numbers are at every level.
For those with short memory, one of those outstanding games was against Utah. Lillard posted a casual 51 points (his third in two weeks) to help hand the Jazz their fourth straight loss in their current streak.
The last two games for Portland, Lillard has been a little more human, though he’s still Lillard. He scored 21 points in a 28-point loss to Denver and just yesterday led his crew over San Antonio with 26 points. His shooting numbers, both overall and from three, are below 40 percent for the last two games as the law of averages kicks in.
Can Utah take advantage of Portland on a back-to-back?
If recent history has anything to say, it’s that teams being shorthanded or on short rest means nothing when facing the Jazz. In the last week or so, Utah has lost to a Houston team missing James Harden, Russell Westbrook AND Clint Capela. Then it was the Spurs without LaMarcus Aldridge. Next, the Nuggets without Jamaal Murray and days later the Nuggets again but on a back-to-back with only seven active players.
There’s been some talk of a more difficult schedule being a factor in Utah’s sudden and dramatic downturn, but with context inserted that argument loses all logical backing. The Jazz have not taken care of business the way they should be given the expectations placed upon them and the talent present on their own roster.
But tonight Utah can start the long road to reversing the damage done.
Mike Conley’s continued resurgence
While Conley’s role and impact on the Jazz continues to be polarizing, the one thing that can’t be doubted is that his last two games have been right on par with what’s been expected of him, at least as far as stats go. He’s posted back-to-back 20-point games, shooting 45.5 percent in the two games (60 percent from three) with nine combined assists, 12 rebounds and a measly three turnovers.
Both of those games have come since Conley jumped back into the starting lineup, so here’s to hoping he retains this form and that the rest of the team gets back on track as well.
Here’s a look at happier times when Gobert defended two perimeter players in a clutch situation to close out a Jazz win.
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