Jazz Stars Outdueled Again As Team Drops Fifth Straight

Feb 6, 2020, 12:06 AM | Updated: 12:42 am

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz All-Stars were once again outdueled as the team lost their fifth straight, a 98-95 loss to the shorthanded Denver Nuggets. 

The Story

Just when it seemed like the Utah Jazz losing streak couldn’t get any worse, the seven-man Denver Nuggets, severely short-handed due to a series of injuries, a pending trade, and playing on the second night of a back to back walked into Utah and stole a victory to hand the Jazz their fifth straight loss. 

The Jazz looked destined to break their losing streak building a 15 point lead midway through the third quarter against the undermanned Nuggets, but a 16-4 run from Denver to close the quarter trimmed the Jazz lead to just three entering the final period. Ultimately, a 20 point fourth quarter plagued by turnovers would undue the Jazz for the fifth straight outing.

Simply looking at the numbers, it’s not difficult to see how the Jazz lost the game. 

Nuggets All-Star center Nikola Jokic had a superb statine finishing the night with 30 points, 21 rebounds, and 10 assists in just under 40 minutes. Point guard Jamal Murray added 31 points for the Nuggets in just over 42 minutes. 

Meanwhile, Jazz All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell struggled for his second consecutive game against the Nuggets, finishing with 18 points on just 8-24 shooting. Bojan Bogdanovic finished the night shooting just 16 points on 6-18 shooting. 

The Nuggets beat the Jazz to loose balls, outrebounded the Jazz 52-46, turned the ball over three fewer times, and earned four more trips to the free-throw line. 

As the game drew tighter, the Jazz seemed to play worse. 

With 2:36 left in the fourth quarter and the team leading by two, the Jazz turned the ball over on four straight possessions and found themselves down by one with 59 seconds remaining. 

Over the final 3:19 of the fourth quarter, the Jazz committed four turnovers, attempted just three shots, all misses, and gave up seven points without forcing a turnover. 

Despite some big performances during the Jazz five-game losing streak, they’ve failed to have the best player on the floor in any of the losses. Eric Gordon was the best player when the Jazz lost to the Houston Rockets, finishing with 50 points. DeMar DeRozan was the best player for San Antonio Spurs, finishing the night with 38 points. As was the case in Utah, Jokic was the best player on the floor in the team’s first meeting with the Nuggets, finishing with 28 points including 13 fourth-quarter points to secure a clutch win. Against the Portland Trailblazers, the Jazz were bested by Damian Lillard who had 51 points. 

For a team that has rightfully earned All-Star births from both Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, neither star has been the best player on the floor in any of the Jazz last five games, while the oppositions best players have nearly singlehandedly determined the outcomes of the games. 

The Game

Mike Conley continues to look more comfortable in the starting lineup for the Jazz. The veteran point guard scored 10 first-quarter points, connecting on his first three three-point attempts of the game. 

The Jazz led 32-25 after 12 minutes thank in large part to seven made threes. 

Despite a big second quarter from Murray that saw the Nuggets guard score 12 points on 5-8 shooting, the Jazz outscored the Nuggets 25-24 in the second period and entered halftime with a 57-49 lead. 

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 14 of his 16 total points in the first half, connecting on 5-9 from the floor and 3-5 from the three-point line. 

The Jazz troubles began in the third quarter when they managed just 18 total points on 8-22 shooting and 2-11 from three. Jokic played the entire third quarter for Denver while Murray played all but 39 seconds. The Nuggets outscored the Jazz by five and entered the fourth quarter trailing just 75-72. 

The Jazz were able to once again build their lead to nine points on a pair of Gobert free-throws with 7:09 left in the game but were outscored 19-7 over the second half of the final period to lose their fifth straight game. 

Conley finished the night with 21 points, his second consecutive 20+ point outing for the Jazz, while grabbing eight rebounds and five assists. 

Gobert’s 16 point, 14 rebound double-double would look more impressive if not for Jokic’s outstanding performance. Gobert has been outplayed in each of his last three games by his frontcourt counterpart, with the Trailblazers Hassan Whiteside’s 17 point, 21 rebound contribution bookended by two spectacular outings from Jokic.

The Big Picture

The Jazz five straight losses are concerning, a concern that should feel particularly intimidating with Portland, Houston, Dallas, and Miami on the horizon before the Jazz head into the All-Star break. 

Just as the team has lost the last five, the next four teams all feature star players capable of outplaying the Jazz best players on any given night. Though unlikely, it’s possible the Jazz enter the extended break on a nine-game losing streak. 

After a streak of 17 games that saw Joe Ingles score in double digits all but once, the Australian guard has scored more than 10 just once in the last nine games. It’s not a coincidence that those games coincide with Conley’s return to the lineup. 

Despite Ingles unusual size for the position, it’s clearly he’s most comfortable initiating an offense as a point guard, and when matched with Conley, the opportunities just aren’t there. It becomes a tricky obstacle for the Jazz as Conley appears to be getting better at running the team, while Ingles once again falls back to his early-season struggles when Conley was healthy. 

Ingles is averaging just 6.1 points per game while shooting just 36 percent from the floor and 31 percent from three over the last nine games.

In the first 21 games of the season, the games in which Conley was healthy, Ingles averaged just 7.3 points per game while shooting 36 percent shooting from the floor and 30 percent from three. Over the next 20 games, 19 of which Conley missed with a hamstring injury, Ingles averages climbed to 15.3 points per game shooting 51 percent from both the floor and from three. 

Simply put, Ingles and Conley are both point guards, and they have yet to figure out how to coexist. 

Perhaps more concerning, with Conley in the lineup, the Jazz have a record 17-13 overall. With Conley out of the lineup, the team has a record 15-5. 

In fairness to Conley, in the 30 games the team has played with him in the lineup, 17 games have been against playoff-caliber opponents. In the 20 games Conley has missed, just eight games of the opponents are playoff-bound, including games against the sub .500 Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic.

Though it may not ease the pain of Jazz fans, four of the team’s five losses have come by single-digits. With the exception of the 17 point loss to Portland, the Jazz aren’t getting blown out, they simply can’t maintain a fourth-quarter lead, or overcome a late deficit. 

There remains a randomness to basketball that much be accounted for in all close games and it’s possible the Jazz have found themselves on the wrong side of randomness more than once during the losing streak. 

Along those lines, the Jazz were unfortunate to catch both Lillard and Jokic during some of the best stretches of their careers. Jokic is averaging 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists over his last three games. While the Jazz could have impacted that with better play, sometimes the opposing stars have brilliant games. 

The same goes for Lillard who over a six-game stretch, including his meeting with the Jazz averaged nearly 49 points per game while shooting 55 percent from the floor and 57 percent from three. 

The Jazz will face Lillard again Friday night hoping his latest outing against the Nuggets, a 21 point, 8-23 shooting night cooled off his hot hand. 

The Jazz dropped to fifth place in the West with their loss, tied with the Rockets at 32-18. The Jazz play Houston Sunday night in Houston on the front end of a back to back. 

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