The Utah Jazz have one of the most talented rosters in the league. This has stood true for the last three seasons. Yet for whatever reason, this team can’t help but shoot itself in the foot.
On Wednesday night, coming off a win-streak that rekindled optimism and excitement around the team, the Jazz rolled into Los Angeles to take on the Lakers. What started out as a promising night turned into a story that we know all too well: the Jazz started rolling, took a good lead, then crumbled in catastrophic fashion. Rinse and repeat.
We can point to every statistic that explains why this basketball team should be incredible. Utah’s starting lineup has one of the best net-ratings in the entire league at 12.1. As a team, the Jazz have the third best point differential at +6.9, only trailing the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns. They are 23-9 when all five starters play. It goes on and on.
But right now, sitting in the fourth spot in the Western Conference standings with a record of 36-22, the Utah Jazz inspire zero confidence. This team, with two three-time All-Stars, a criminally underrated point guard, a former 6MOTY, and a variety of solid role players, predicts to achieve another first or second round exit. How can a team on pace to win over 50 games find itself in this position? A lack of intensity and focus.
As the saying goes, basketball is a game of runs. Everyone watching Wednesday’s game knew that at some point, LA would make a push. And when that push came, Utah folded. They lacked the focus and intensity to make the plays needed to weather the storm. Instead, they did this:
Royce O’Neale had it rough this game (there are more plays to come), but this turnover acted as a catalyst to LA’s run. It led to an easy basket and shifted the momentum.
But somehow, this turnover was worse:
I don’t think I need to explain anything here. The play speaks for itself.
But to make matters even worse, the Jazz totally collapsed on defense as well. Down one, with under 30 seconds left in the game, there was one thing the Jazz couldn’t allow: an open three. Here’s what happened:
What were Mike Conley and O’Neale thinking here? They failed at multiple attempts to communicate who should cover Lebron James and Talen Horton-Tucker. They end up covering neither, leading to a wide open cut for James, who then found the open shooter. This is a breakdown of fundamental defensive concepts and nothing we haven’t seen the Jazz fail at before.
Fortunately for Utah, these issues still can be fixed. It doesn’t take talent to focus, communicate, or play hard. It doesn’t take skill to understand time and score. Instead, it takes effort. For all the amazing shooting, playmaking, and skill that this team has, they lack the most fundamental characteristic of a championship team: an unrelenting want to win.
The Jazz have had unlucky breaks with injuries and matchups, but so has every team in the Association. They aren’t unique in the obstacles they’ve faced or the flaws they have. What separates them from the true contenders in the league is how they’ve reacted when faced with adversity. But with all that said, I still think this team can turn it around. Writing them off in February would be malpractice. But if they don't take the All-Star break to focus, regroup, and turn a new leaf, the playoffs will not be kind.