BEN ANDERSON

Undersized Jazz No Match For Cavaliers

Jan 12, 2022, 9:43 PM | Updated: 9:44 pm
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Lauri Markkanen defends Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic (Photo by Ch...
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Lauri Markkanen defends Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – The shorthanded Utah Jazz proved to be no match for the supersized Cleveland Cavaliers as they lost their fourth straight game 111-91.

Jordan Clarkson scored 22 points for the Jazz who were forced to play one of the smallest lineups in team history as Rudy Gobert, Hassan Whiteside, Rudy Gay, Udoka Azubuike, and Norvel Pelle all missed the game due to illness.

The Cavaliers, who start three seven-footers outrebounded the Jazz 50-32 en route to a 60-36 points in the paint advantage to split the season series at one game apiece.

Paschall Plays Well As Small Ball Center

Though the Jazz were ultimately blown out in the game, there were some promising signs from the team’s smaller units in the first half, most notably the play of Eric Paschall.

The Jazz gave up only 58 points which while not spectacular, could have been much worse considering the obvious size discrepancy. And, they did it without catching fire from three, meaning if Quin Snyder were to choose to play his smaller lineups for stints in the future their success may not be solely dependent on shot-making.

Most of the team’s offensive success came from abandoning the traditional pick-and-roll-based offense and simply putting their head down and getting to the rim, specifically from Paschall who finished with 18 points on 8-11 shooting.

Now, the Cavaliers have one of the more unique rosters in the NBA with their ability to play three seven-footers in their starting lineup, which allowed the Jazz easier opportunities to attack slower-footed defenders off the dribble.

“When we don’t have fives rolling the lanes open,” Snyder said after the game. “And that’s an opportunity for us to get in the paint.”

The question going forward is will Snyder be willing to take either Rudy Gobert or Hassan Whiteside off the floor in favor of a smaller lineup if he wasn’t forced to like he was against the Cavaliers?

And, would the Jazz offensive attack be as successful against opposing lineups that didn’t have so many taller, slower defenders?

Those are legitimate questions, and the answer may very well be no, but Paschall has likely done enough in his opportunities against the Toronto Raptors last Friday and the Cavaliers on Wednesday to warrant more chances before the end of the season.

“He’s attacking off the dribble and he’s getting to the rim,” Snyder said of Paschall. “If he isn’t getting to the rim he’s under control and he’s making the right read passing the ball out.”

The Jazz are right to prefer having Gobert on the floor as much as possible in every game he’s available, but in instances where the team would benefit from playing smaller lineups, Paschall may be a legitimate weapon.

Balancing The Data With The Bodies

The Jazz find themselves in an awkward spot — in the midst of a down stretch of basketball, being forced to play without several key players from their rotation, and sitting less than a month out from the NBA’s trade deadline.

The team must make sure it’s in the best position possible to compete for a championship as they prepare for the playoffs, and they will make decisions before the trade deadline to address what their perceived weaknesses are. But, they’re trapped having those weaknesses over the last week with less than reliable data due to the lack of rotation players available.

What could make those decisions even more difficult is how quickly the team’s roster is changing, not just every day but every hour.

The Jazz will now head into a three-day break before facing the Denver Nuggets on Sunday which could allow Gobert, Gay, and Hughes to clear protocols before the team suits up again, but could also provide more time for other players to find themselves sidelined by the virus.

“You react and adjust to the reality of the situation,” Snyder said of the team’s difficult predicament. “And that’s what we’ll do.”

So far, Mitchell, Conley, Clarkson, Forrest, Valentine, Bogdanovic, O’Neale, Cheatham, and Paschall have yet to find themselves in the league’s health and safety protocols, but that could change at a moments notice.

Over the last 24 hours alone, Whiteside, Pelle, and House Jr. have been added to the team’s list of unwell players, either with confirmed cases of COVID or on the non-COVID list.

Depending on who else gets sick on the team, when it happens, and how quickly they return, the Jazz could likely be without a full roster until late January, with just weeks to go before one of the most important trade deadlines in recent memory.

Making matters worse, of the team’s next eight games, six will come against teams currently slated to make the playoffs in the Western Conference, including three matchups with the league-leading Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors.

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