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Jazz vs Trail Blazers Recap: Utah is playing without an identity

Losing to Portland Wednesday night, the Jazz looked confused, lost, and without direction.

Utah Jazz v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Prior to Wednesday’s night game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz coach Will Hardy made his expectations for the team clear.

“The only two things that I care about are: play hard and pass,” Hardy said. “We’re at a point now where if you’re not willing to do both of those things, you cannot play for the Utah Jazz.”

Against the Blazers, the Jazz didn’t do much of either.

Let’s start with the “play hard” piece of Hardy’s desired identity. The Jazz lost 105-121 to a Portland team who entered the night 3-11 and were starting their third-string center with both DeAndre Ayton and Robert Williams out to injury. By nearly every metric, the Blazers are one of the worst teams in the NBA. Yet somehow, the final score the game provided a generous depiction of Utah’s performance tonight. At points in the fourth quarter, they trailed by over 30 points.

Throughout the night, the Jazz played with a lack of emotion or intensity. Jordan Clarkson, for instance, failed to get back on defense after multiple missed shots. After a handful of his seven turnovers on the night, he dropped his head and seem disengaged. John Collins, for his part, seemed unaware of his surroundings on defense.

Lauri Markkanen, while undoubtedly Utah’s most important player, also felt disconnected. He finished the night with 24 points on 50% shooting, but clearly focused on finding shots for himself rather than scoring through the natural development of the offense. And honestly, I don’t blame him, since the Jazz don't have a real point guard and do a poor job of setting him up for open looks. But this means that when Markkanen touches the ball, he almost always shoots it, making him a less diverse player and easier to defend by extension. The numbers show this, as he only has one assist over the last seven games.

When we turn to the “pass” section, things don’t get much better. Utah finished the night with 25 assists, a fine number. But they turned the ball over 21 times and seemed to repeatedly force passes that weren’t there. Each of Jordan Clarkson, Talen Horton-Tucker, Collin Sexton, and Kelly Olynyk seemed to artificially look for the extra pass or open man, rather than making the best play. The four accounted for 15 of Utah’s turnovers, more than the 13 total turnover the Trail Blazers had on the night.

The Jazz have lost four straight, with their last two losses being uncompetitive after the first half. Clearly the Jazz are falling far from Hardy’s expectation for the team, and if he truly feels like the identities he listed are important to Utah’s success, he has some difficult decisions to make with who gets playing time. The team has a lack of identity and seems unsure of itself on the court. At this point, the Jazz aren’t competing for wins by playing their veterans, so it may be time to consider trying younger players like Taylor Hendricks and Brice Sensabaugh. Regardless, Utah requires some type of change soon.

The Jazz will have two days to regroup before taking on the the New Orleans Pelicans at home on Saturday.