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Lakers Ruin Jazz Homecoming With Lopsided Performance

Utah Jazz forward Jeff Green (22) battles Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (39) for the ball during an NBA game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Los Angeles Lakers made sure returning to Salt Lake City wasn’t going to be the cure-all for the weary Utah Jazz. The Lakers made Vivint Smart Home Arena feel, and at times sound like the Staples Center, en route to a 121 to 96 Jazz loss. 

The Story

Each of the last three Jazz losses appears to be a carbon copy of one another. The Jazz are able to hang with their opponent for the first six minutes of the game, then when the bench unit subs in, the Jazz collapse, and can’t close the gap at any point for the rest of the game. 

Against the Lakers, the Jazz led 15-14 with 6:15 remaining in the first quarter when George Niang, Royce O’Neale and Ed Davis subbed into the game — at the end of the quarter, the Jazz trailed 34-26. 

At the 11 minute mark of the second quarter, the Lakers took a 37-26 lead, and the Jazz failed to narrow the gap to single digits for the rest of the night. 

Coach Quin Snyder once again was forced to alter his substitution pattern with starting guard Mike Conley missing the game due to a hamstring strain suffered against Philadelphia Monday night, but still couldn’t find the winning rotation. 

Every player on the Jazz had a negative plus/minus with the exception of Joe Ingles, who finished the night +1. 

On the flip side, every Laker found themselves in the positive against the Jazz except JaVale McGee, who was -1 on the night.

While the Jazz offense once against struggled, scoring just 96 points, and recorded an offensive rating of just 98 points per 100 possessions, the defense was the main issue against LA. The Lakers finished the game with 121 points, shot 51 percent from the floor and 48 percent from three, and had an offensive rating of 122 points. 

For reference, the New York Knicks entered the night with the worst offensive record in the NBA at 102, two points better than the Jazz averaged tonight. The worst defensive rating in the NBA is 116 via the Washington Wizards. The Jazz were six points worse than that against the Lakers. 

The Game

The Jazz offense appeared improved in the first half, committing to moving the ball, kicking out to open shooters, and when penetrating, getting to the rim, rather than pulling up for low percentage runners and floaters. 

In the first quarter, the Jazz attempted five mid-range shots and made two of them. At the half, they’d taken just eight, a decent number when compared to their 19 three-point attempts, and 20 shots at the rim. 

“We had a lot of good looks in the paint in the first half,” Coach Quin Snyder said, “And when you don’t finish you don’t finish it’s very difficult to defend.” 

Donovan Mitchell was noticeably more aggressive getting all the way to the rim, despite finishing just 3-8 within five feet of the hoop. Mitchell led the Jazz with 29 points on 11-24 shooting including 3-7 from the three-point line.

Unfortunately for the Jazz, those shots at the rim weren’t falling, connecting on just six of 20 attempts. Ultimately, the Jazz finished with 34 points in the paint on 17-45 shooting, largely in thanks to the Lakers low post defensive trio of Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee, and Dwight Howard. 

“I thought Donovan did an excellent job getting the rim,” Snyder said, “he missed some, and that’ll happen against their rim protection.”

Davis led the Lakers with 26 points and three blocked shots. LeBron James added 20 points and 12 assists. 

Meanwhile, on an identical 45 field goal attempts in the paint, the Lakers connected 26 baskets for 52 points. Many of those points came in fast-break opportunities where the Lakers outscored the Jazz 32-5. 

“There were a number of times when we didn’t run back as hard as we needed to,” Snyder said.

As they have in previous losses, the Jazz were able to close the deficit to as few as 11 points, but the Lakers quickly rebuilt the lead to 19 points and led the Jazz 94-75 entering the fourth quarter. 

The Big Picture

The Jazz have lost five of six, and the low point isn’t lost on the locker room. Mitchell sat quietly at his locker after the game with a thousand-yard state, while Green, Davis, and Conley came by with reassuring handshakes for the Jazz third-year star. 

A few things stand out significantly after the Jazz loss to the Lakers — first, the Jazz aren’t currently anywhere near the same caliber of team as the one they played against tonight. The Lakers were crisper, played harder, faster, and smarter than the Jazz, and ultimately made short work of a team they knew they were better than. Having played in Denver last night, while the Jazz were at home sleeping in their own beds, a game ending in a blow out should have leaned in the Jazz favor, and nothing could be further from the truth. 

Additionally, over the last six games, the Jazz have played the two best teams in each conference — the Milwaukee Bucks and the Lakers, and have played four of the five teams in the NBA with the best record. 

That’s a tough stretch for any team in the NBA, and especially hard on a team that is playing its worst basketball of the season. At this point, it’s fair to say the Jazz aren’t in the tier of contenders 22 games into the season. 

However, the schedule should turn in the Jazz favor over the next several weeks. Starting Saturday against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Jazz embark on a seven-game stretch featuring just two teams currently seeded in the playoff picture, and none with a record above .500. 

After facing Memphis, the Jazz will host both the Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder, travel to Minnesota before returning home to host the Golden State Warriors and Orlando Magic. Finishing off the stretch traveling to Atlanta and Charlotte. 

The stretch features no back to back games, and the seven contests are split over 18 days.