The Utah Jazz have lost three of their last six games. It’s nothing to panic over, after all, Utah hasn’t lost back-to-back games since Jan. 5-6. But given the fanbase prides itself on Utah having the best record in the NBA and a loss total still in single digits, the sudden lack of long win streaks feels more worrying than it really is.
Utah’s problems in the last few games largely boil down to issues on one side of the ball. Offensively, they’ve maintained great play with the league’s second-best offensive rating since Feb. 18 and their shooting numbers are just as great in that span. The Jazz simply aren’t stopping teams as they did during the win streak. In that brilliant 21-game run where they won 20 times (17 by double-digits), eight of Utah’s opponents failed to score 100 points and 15 failed to reach the league average point total (112.1).
In a (definitely not) surprising coincidence, in each of Utah’s three recent losses its opponent surpassed both 100 points and the 112 league average. In the same post-Feb. 18 timeframe from the previous paragraph Utah is 17th in defensive rating — they were second for the whole season prior to that date (and still are second for the whole season, but are now closer to third than the league-leading LA Lakers).
Some of this decline likely stems from simply playing great offenses. New Orleans and Miami are both hot on offense (fourth and seventh in offensive rating, respectively, since Feb. 18) and the LA Clippers have an offensive rating of 121.0 in games where both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard play.
That works as an excuse for a mediocre team, but with the Jazz playing at being contenders it won’t pass muster. It’s especially worrying given defense is supposed to be one of Utah’s greatest strengths (they are the only team in the top five in BOTH offensive and defensive rating after all). The Brooklyn Nets can get away with this kind of defense, Utah can’t.
If the Jazz plan on silencing any of the doubters in the coming months, this is a trend that needs to be reversed, and quickly too. The storyline that many national media members want to speak into existence is that we’ve seen this before from Utah where they go on a big winning run in the regular season and fold in the playoffs. Stumbling mid-season only fuels those fires.
Throwing off this slump and just winning more regular-season games won’t silence those critics, but it’ll mean that Utah is capable of adjusting. In seasons past, the Jazz found a groove, Quin Snyder stuck to what worked but eventually what worked stopped working. It’ll take creativity to stay ahead of the pack.
As a final note, this isn’t the first time this season I’ve criticized Utah’s defense for not living up to previous seasons under Snyder. The Jazz at the time were below-average on defense and had a record of 4-3 when the article was published, 4-4 by the end of the night. Since that criticism, my assertion that Utah could no longer hang its hat on defense was thoroughly proven wrong. Except that right now the Jazz are back to being the team it was in the first eight games.