Does Perspective Matter During The Utah Jazz Losing Streak?
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Following the Utah Jazz fourth consecutive loss at home, emerging from the All-Star break like a team that should be scouting college’s most promising lottery picks, and not one that has all but guaranteed themselves a spot in the postseason with nearly 30 games remaining in the season, head coach Quin Snyder walked into his post-game press conference and offered a surprisingly optimistic perspective on his team’s defeat at the hands of the Boston Celtics.
Instead of waiting for the media to grab the pressroom microphone and ask the first inevitably tough question about his team’s recent poor play, Snyder preempted any questions and gave his roster a verbal pat on the back.
“We didn’t get the result we wanted, but we gave a really pure, good effort,” Snyder said, “We’ve got to make a few more shots. Boston hit some tough shots. We had a couple of breakdowns that cost us […] but I saw a team that was committed to defending and playing together.”
After a rough and tumble day that featured a series of confusing pregame lineup changes, first with point guard Mike Conley being moved to the bench in favor or Royce O’Neale, only for the team to reverse course by sending Joe Ingles to the bench in place of Conley while moving O’Neale back into the rotation with the starters, Snyder had to assume the role of team cheer captain, and he did it convincingly well.
Snyder praised the team’s focus defensively with the exception of a few stretches, specifically one that saw Celtics guard Marcus Smart hit three consecutive three-point shots that effectively ended the game while encouraging his team to stay together on the floor.
The locker room wasn’t nearly as enthusiastic.
Instead of the normal postgame conversations being held by teammates or music playing from beyond hallways doors, silence filled the crowded locker room as the Jazz roster seemed to be looking inward for answers.
“We competed defensively, I think we can hang our hats on that,” Donovan Mitchell said, “Now it’s about sustaining it for 48 minutes. I don’t think we should be upset at our effort, just little mistakes that we can fix. They’re a good team, they’re going to capitalize if you make mistakes.”
With the exception of a few truly great and truly miserable teams in NBA history, every team, every season is guaranteed 20 wins and 20 losses. Due to the randomness of basketball, and the fact that shooting a ball into a round hoop is an inexact science, no team can expect to be great, or awful every night they step on the floor. Because of that randomness, however, what they do in the other 42 games each year is what defines their season.
Amid a four-game losing streak, with each loss accounting for the same negative statistic in the loss column, how does a team, and it’s head coach sort out a bad performance, one of the 42 games they can’t afford to lose, with the other 20 losses that will inevitably occur each season?
Between the more assured approach to the game offered by Snyder and the dejected short answers provided by Mitchell and his teammates, the battle between understanding which losses fall under the umbrella of inevitability and which losses count against the 42 most important games of the season lacks a clear definition.
While that gap between understandable and confusing is just one of many issues plaguing the Jazz on their four-game losing streak, it may be the most painful problem, as it robs the fanbase of perspective, and replaces it with dread.
Realistically, over their last four games, the Jazz have two bad losses to the San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns, teams that are a combined 20 games below .500, and two understandable losses to the Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics, both of whom should be competing for conference finals berths this season.
On one side, Snyder seems to be pushing to recognize that perspective. On the other, the players are being worn down by stretch of losses that will loom large in the end of season standings.
The Jazz are the league’s best three-point shooting team, knocking down nearly 40 percent of their attempts this season as a team. To add further perspective to the losses to Houston and Boston, the Jazz shot a combined 19-71, or 26 percent. That’s more than 10 full percentage points below their season average. The shot attempts weren’t bad looks, but the ball didn’t bounce the team’s way, and it likely cost the Jazz two opportunities for wins.
Against the Spurs and Suns, the Jazz shot a combined 22-59, or 37 percent. Far closer to their league-leading average, and efficient enough to knock off to lottery-bound teams. Despite the team’s adequate shooting, the rest of the effort simply wasn’t good enough, and it also cost the Jazz opportunities for important wins.
The results were the same, and equally painful, but the manner in which they arrived at the losses is considerably different.
So how does a coach convey that to a team? There may not be an easy answer. Beyond Snyder’s attempt to redirect the Jazz wayward ship with positive postgame praise, the team is suffering after four straight losses, losses that will undoubtedly hurt the Jazz in their postseason seeding.
What the team can’t afford to do is repeat the mistakes they committed against Spurs and Suns as they prepare for the lowly Washington Wizards on Friday. While the Wizards are 15 games below .500, they sit in the ninth seed in the East, just one spot out of the playoffs.
The Jazz have fallen prey to trap games against the Spurs and Suns, expecting to beat lesser teams with mediocre effort only to be caught off guard by inspired efforts from hungrier teams.
The team may not be able to look back at the last four games and sort out the bad losses from the bad bounces, and the loss column doesn’t care which is which.
But with a string of winnable games on the horizon, the Jazz need to put the last four games behind them and hope that either a better bounce or better effort can quell their current losing streak.
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