Jazz Lose Defensive Identity During Four Game Losing Streak

Feb 2, 2020, 12:01 AM | Updated: 11:53 pm

PORTLAND, Oregon – Damian Lillard continued his hot streak and exposed a quickly fading Jazz defense en route to a 124-107 loss. The Jazz have now lost four straight as they enter a three-day rest period leading up to the NBA’s trade deadline.

The Story 

The Utah Jazz are once again without an identity. After suffering their fourth straight loss, the team heads into a three-day break wondering where the team that won 19 of 21 games has disappeared to. 

For a team that ranks eighth in the NBA in defensive ranking for the season, the Jazz are suddenly unable to get stops from just about anywhere on the floor. Against the Blazers, Damian Lillard was the latest offensive tormentor of the team’s mysteriously absent defense. 

Lillard scored 51 points on 17-29 shooting, his fifth game of at least 47 points in his last six outings. 

The Jazz were unable to stay in front of Lillard off the dribble, leading to baskets at the rim, or easy lob passes to weakside rim rollers. When the Jazz did limit Lillard’s penetration, he rose from three and burned the defense from deep. 

In the last four games, the Jazz have allowed scoring outputs of 51 from Lillard, 38 from the Spurs DeMar DeRozan, and 50 from the Rockets Eric Gordon. 

“He’s playing at a level where you have to react to him and what he’s doing,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said, “We just didn’t execute the things that we were wanting to do. There are times in the game when we did and they still may score at some point, but our execution defensively has to be better.”

If Lillard’s scoring dominance wasn’t enough, recently anointed All-Star Rudy Gobert was badly outplayed by rival center Hassan Whiteside. 

White outscored Gobert 17 to six, outrebounded him 21 to 11. The Jazz shot just 42 percent from the floor with Whiteside deterring the Jazz shooters, while the Blazers shot an impressive 51 percent. 

Not only were the Jazz outplayed man to man, but they were also outhustled by a Blazers team that played the night before against the Los Angeles Lakers during an emotional night that began with a tribute to the late Kobe Bryant. 

The Jazz gave up runs of 15-0, 13-0, and 12-0 throughout the game en route to a 127.8 defensive rating. 

The Game

Mike Conley was inserted into the game for the Jazz and made his presence known in the first half. 

Conley had 19 first-half points for the Jazz and showed flashes of what made him such a highly sought after target in the off-season. Conley hit on three patented runners going towards the rim before stretching his game beyond the three-point line. 

At the half, the 32-year-old guard had 19 points, four assists, and two rebounds. 

The problem?

Those are nearly identical to the numbers he finished the game with. 

In nearly 15 second-half minutes, Conley scored just three points, racking up three rebounds and two assists while missing all but one of his nine shot attempts. 

“I’m happy to be back, out there playing my role. Felt like I am in a good place, and I’ve been in a good place for a while,” Conley said of his return to the lineup, “I feel like it’s going to get better, I think the chemistry will get better with our team.”

The Jazz built a 34-21 lead on the back of Conley’s play in the first quarter but surrendered a 12-0 run to end the quarter to trim the Jazz lead to just one. 

After keeping the Blazers at arms-length through the first nine minutes of the second quarter building a 53-48 lead. However, a 15-0 run to close the half gave the Blazers a 63-53 lead at the break, essentially ending the game. 

The Jazz were able to trim the Blazers lead to five in the third quarter, but a 13-0 run ballooned the lead to 91-73 in favor of Portland and the rest of the game was merely an exhibition. 

The Big Picture

The Jazz offense hasn’t been an issue over their losing streak, turning in offensive ratings of 111.5, 106.4, 116.5, and 107.3. However, defensive ratings of 127.8, 111.6, 127, and 115.6 have made the Jazz offense outings superfluous. 

Bringing Conley back into the starting lineup altered the Jazz rotation once again. Mitchell was the first starter subbed out of the game in favor of Royce O’Neale at the seven-minute mark, then Jordan Clarkson subbed in for Joe Ingles at the five-minute mark.

Mitchell re-entered the game for Conley at the three-minute mark and closed the quarter with Clarkson in the backcourt. Ingles then began the second quarter in place of O’Neale, with Conley subbing in for Mitchell at the nine-minute mark. 

Snyder is making an effort to give Conley longer stretches on the floor, playing two long blocks of minutes per half, while Mitchell plays in three smaller blocks. 

It’s a smart move from the Jazz to test this lineup as they prepare for the All-Star break spanning February 13-21. 

“You want to try to go into the all-star break playing really well,” Conley said, “We’ve got a couple of days of practice coming up.”

With Tony Bradley out of the lineup, Ed Davis is forced into the rotation and the Jazz continue to struggle with him on the floor. The Blazers 12-0 run to end the first quarter coincided with Gobert subbing out of the game and the team relying on reserves in the frontcourt. 

With the trade deadline fast approaching on February 6, the Jazz must decide how comfortable they are with their reserve frontcourt. Bradley has played better recently for the Jazz, but has played just two playoff minutes in his career. 

Georges Niang is a solid contributor when he’s making shots, but on nights like the one he had against the Blazers, finishing with six points on 3-10 shooting, it becomes more difficult to project him recording important postseason minutes. 

If the team’s goal is to trim the rotation to eight players come the postseason, a versatile forward-center may be a target for the team over the next week. 

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