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Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Jazz Show Well In Loss To Clippers

Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah –Β The Utah Jazz lost just their second game in their last 22 outings when they fell to the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night 116-112.

The Jazz started the game slow and Donovan Mitchell found himself in foul trouble in the first quarter but battled back from a 15 point deficit to briefly take the lead in the third quarter before falling short down the stretch.

Mitchell finished the game with 35 points to lead all scorers, Mike Conley looked healthy in his return from a six-game absence, and the Jazz can feel confident in their performance despite the disappointing final score.

Small Flaws In The Jazz Armor

This was the Jazz best road test since falling to the Denver Nuggets on the last day of January. Like the loss to Denver, it exposed some of the flaws in the Jazz armor.

The Jazz allowed too many second-chance opportunities throughout the game which led to a 16-8 scoring advantage for LA on 11 offensive rebounds. Kawhi Leonard grabbed two offensive rebounds on one possession with less than a minute to play which kept the Jazz from ending a good defensive sequence from Royce O’Neale, ultimately sending Leonard to the free-throw line.

“Give Royce his credit for how he guarded Kawhi down the stretch,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got to get in there and help him out in the boards. Those two offensive boards are winning plays by Kawhi and we’ve got to get in there and help him.”

The Jazz perimeter defense allowed too much penetration from the Clippers which forced Rudy Gobert to slide over as a help defender, opening easy putback opportunities for the Clippers rebounders.

In addition to their issues ending defensive possessions, the Jazz struggled with Clippers reserve big man Marcus Morris all night.

Morris scored 17 points on 7-11 shooting and finished the game for the Clippers who chose to play small down the stretch.

This is the value of a game like this for the Jazz where they can see any weaknesses they might have, and recognize what they have to address either internally,Β  by the trade deadline, or on the buyout market before the final stretch of the regular season.

The Jazz will still close games with O’Neale, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Gobert in the playoffs regardless of who the Clippers chose to play at center, but having a defender for a few minutes a game that can cover Morris more effectively could be the difference in a postseason series.

“That’s a tough matchup for us, for anyone really, because they just put shooting all around the floor,” Snyder said. “You want to be able to try and help, but then again it’s hard to come off anybody.”

Juwan Morgan could be an option internally and there are ways to scheme for Morris’s offensive attack, but this was good exposure for the Jazz that they would prefer to see in the regular season rather than in game one of the playoffs with little time off to solve their issues.

Mike Conley Returns

Conley returned to the Jazz after a six-game absence and looked like he hadn’t skipped a beat early in the game. The veteran scored seven of the first nine points before finishing with 16 points, though he was restricted to just 25 minutes of action.

Despite his solid play to open the game, it was clear the guard wasn’t back to full strength. Jazz coach Quin Snyder broke tradition by holding Conley out of the final minutes of the first half to keep him under his minutes’ restriction.

“Great to finally get let off the leash I like to say,” Conley said after the game. “I’ve been waiting for a while to get out there and play and feeling good for a while, so I’m just really happy to be back.”

The veteran had zero assists and zero rebounds in the game, and contrary to his plus-minus darling stats, the Jazz were outscored by seven with Conley on the floor.

It’s the first since joining the Jazz that Conley had failed to record an assist, a feat the guard had failed to accomplish since February 11, 2015.

Regardless, the Jazz will be happy to have the guard back, if not just to stabilize the offense early in games. Mitchell was clearly frustrated by the Clippers Patrick Beverley in the first quarter and started the game 0-4 from the floor with two fouls and a turnover in six minutes.

“We missed his presence for sure,” Mitchell said. “We missed his game, his play.”

Though Mitchell eventually found his rhythm, having Conley on the floor to settle the Jazz nerves kept the game from getting out of hand early.

The Jazz played well with Conley back, so there shouldn’t be a long readjustment time with him in the lineup. The team struggled with that last season, but it doesn’t appear to be a problem this year.

Too Good For Moral Victories, But No Shame Here

The Jazz are too good to celebrate moral victories, but they were far from downtrodden after the loss. It wasn’t so much that the team came back from a 15 point deficit to retake the lead in the second half, but that the Jazz saw a different scenario during a game that they aren’t used to.

“As disappointed as you are that you don’t win the game, this is another situation that we want to take and use to get better,” Snyder said.

Mitchell was equally optimistic after the game.

“I think this is a bump in the road and a good one, in my opinion,” Mitchell said. “I think this is something we can look at and say ‘Okay, we stayed with them but this is what separated the game.'”

This is the first time this season the Jazz have played a two-game series against one team on the road and they did their job by winning the first game. No, the Clippers weren’t at full strength, but with the victory, the Jazz won the season series two games to one, which could have big implications should the two teams meet in the postseason.

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