Jazz Show Rust In Loss To Suns

Jul 23, 2020, 9:15 PM | Updated: Jul 24, 2020, 2:06 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz appeared rusty against the Phoenix Suns in their first game back from a four-month hiatus from NBA basketball. The Jazz fell 101-88 to the Suns, struggling to defend the younger Suns team early in the game, and setting for tough looks on offense. Despite shaking off some of the rust in the third quarter, the team was never able to close the gap to make a real push to win the game.

Struggling Without Bogdanovic

The biggest question the Jazz faced heading into the game is how they would adapt without Bojan Bogdanovic out of the lineup. Unfortunately, the results weren’t pretty.

Without Bogdanovic, the Jazz lacked size internally to body up the Suns bigger lineup. Though Bogdanovic isn’t an imposing rim protector, he’s large enough to help clog up the lane, and lean on bigger offensive players. The Suns found the paint early with low post possessions from Devin Booker and Dario Saric and punished the Jazz with easy baskets, or by drawing fouls.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder discussed how the team can work around Bogdanovic’s absence.

“We’ve got to combat that by being more aggressive from other parts of the floor,” Snyder said. “I thought the second half we got some more deflections. To the extent that we’re not aggressive, those matchups become even more difficult so we’ve got to help each other.”

On offense, the Jazz missed Bogdanovic as a possession finisher. The Croatian forward is one of the league’s deadliest shooters, and without him, the Jazz looked lost offensively finding efficient shots. Donovan Mitchell’s excellent shot-making (5-8 FG, 17 points) is still the Jazz best weapon, but finding a second fiddle will be key.

Mitchell spoke on what he saw from the defensive without Bogdanovic.

“There’s a lot more [defensive] shifts,” Mitchell said. “I think the biggest thing is just being able to make them pay for that. You notice it for sure, he’s a lethal shooter and he’s going to be missed. But there are guys that are capable of knocking the shots down.”

Slow Perimeter Defense

The Jazz were once again plagued by slow perimeter defense early in the first quarter. Whether it was rust, scheme, or lack of footspeed, the team failed to stay in front of their man defensively leading to easy baskets or foul shots. It’s been a problem for the Jazz for most of the season, and they may not have the bodies to combat it.

“We had to do a better job of guarding,” Mitchell said. “I think as a whole, regardless of what lineup we had, being able to guard was the biggest thing that we really had to.”

The Jazz trailed 28-19 after the first quarter, with much of their offensive struggles stemming from allowing Phoenix to get back on defense after made shots.

“We’ve got to do a better job of dictating something defensively,” Snyder said of the Jazz early defense. “I thought it showed with our fouls. They got to the offensive glass and got points in the paint. That’s something we’ll need to look at and be aware of and do a better job.”

Royce O’Neale, the Jazz starting forward in place of Bogdanovic and the team’s best perimeter defender struggled in his return. The forward recorded four fouls and just one rebound in the first half. For the night, O’Neale connected on his only shot, a two-pointer in the second half.

Not Enough Threes

If the Jazz hope to compete with opposing teams while they close the season in Orlando, they’ll have to find a way to supplant the three-point attempts they are missing without Bogdanovic. The sharpshooter leads the team with 7.3 attempts per game, and the team has to make those up, even if they can’t mimic his 41 percent completion rate.

O’Neale and Joe Ingles, the Jazz starting forward combined for just two three-point attempts in nearly 40 minutes of action. Ingles passed up a wide-open look in the first half for a contested floater. Both wings will have to be willing to be emotionless shot hoisters at times for the Jazz to maintain any semblance of their own offense.

Overall the Jazz shot 10-24 from deep for a very respectable 41 percent, but will likely need to see that attempts number climb into the 30s.

The Successes

Despite the early rust, the Jazz still showed some signs of success in addition to their hot three-point shooting. Mitchell stepped into the bubble looking like his All-Star self. After struggling late in in the season before the hiatus, Mitchell looked fresh on the offensive side of the ball.

Mitchell’s 17 points were a game-high. His 5-8 shooting, including 3-4 made threes is promising for a scorer who sometimes struggles to find the bottom of the basket consistently.

Tony Bradley and Rudy Gobert played well together to open the third quarter. After O’Neale picked up four first-half fouls, Bradley got the lion’s share of the power forward minutes in the third quarter and the lineup was successful. The Jazz trimmed the lead to three before Snyder switched to mostly end of the bench minutes.

The Jazz were +6 in the 7:25 minutes Gobert and Bradley were on the floor together in the third quarter.

Mike Conley also seemed to find his groove with the bigger lineup. Despite looking very small in the first half against the longer Suns lineup, Conley came into his own with a much better second half.

“Once we came back out in the third quarter we just got a little bit more aggressive on both ends,” Conley said. “That allowed myself and everybody else to kind of get into the paint and make plays.”

The veteran guard had eight points in the first 5:07 of the third quarter, doubling his four-point first-half contribution. With Bogdanovic out, the Jazz will need Conley to find his scoring touch earlier in the game. Like O’Neale and Ingles, Conley’s two three-point attempts simply aren’t enough.

Weird Lineups

Snyder did experiment with a variety of lineups for the Jazz in the second half against the Suns. Considering the game was only a scrimmage, it’s difficult to determine what Snyder was actually exploring, versus being cautious with his starters minutes.

No Jazz starters played in the final 10 minutes of the game.

In addition to the Jazz starting five of Conley, Mitchell, Ingles, O’Neale an Gobert, Snyder will likely have to found four rotation players to use off the bench. Jordan Clarkson is the team’s sixth man, followed by Georges Niang and Bradley. Outside of O’Neale and at times Ingles, the unit lacks a strong perimeter defender to match up against bigger wings.

Rayjon Tucker saw minutes late in the game, and may have to return to the lineup consistently for the first time since Mike Conley returned from injury in February. Both rookies Miye Oni and Jarrell Brantley also saw the floor for Snyder, and could be emergency options.

The Jazz will face the Miami Heat on Saturday at 2 pm MT. The game will be shown on tape delay on AT&T sports at 7 pm.

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