But in this business, we donâ€™t get the advantage of looking ahead. All we can do now is see whatâ€™s in front of us. And whatâ€™s staring us in the face concerning the Utah Jazz is a harsh reality. At this point, the Jazz might be the fourth-best team in the Western Conference. At this point, if the playoffs were set to begin, every single lower-seeded team in the conference would be jockeying for the opportunity to face the Jazz in the first round. And at this point, those lower-seeded teams would have at least a puncherâ€™s chance of taking the Jazz out of the playoffs.
Why? To put it plainly, the Jazz donâ€™t guard defensively. They donâ€™t stay in front. They are letting guys have career nights, seemingly every other night. Every other night, it seems like a team shoots a monstrous percentage against the Jazz from 3-point range, and thatâ€™s because the Jazz are surrendering high-quality shots from the perimeter. And this version of the Jazz is leaving no doubt about the importance of Rudy Gobert, who is in health and safety protocols.
How important? Gobert should be in the leagueâ€™s MVP conversation just for the fact that he makes this team look competent on the defensive end. Heâ€™s proving to be the one player the Utah Jazz simply cannot do without. And theyâ€™re without him.
â€śWeâ€™re fooling ourselves if you think we can win a championship playing like this,â€ť Donovan Mitchell said.
A 126-116 loss to the Detroit Pistons on Monday night might have been the ugliest performance of the season for Utah, and there have been some ugly performances. The Jazz surrendered 78 points in the second half of a relatively low-possession game to a team that entered the night with seven wins and one of the worst offenses in the league.
Cade Cunningham, the Pistonsâ€™ precocious rookie guard, is going to be special one day. The Jazz made sure Monday night was his time. Defensively, Utah was nonexistent at the point of attack. The Jazz didnâ€™t rotate. They surrendered practice-level looks from 3-point range. Several times, they looked at one another in confusion, the five players on the floor clearly not on the same page.
You could call it a disaster, except the Jazz went through the same disastrous experience Saturday night, 48 hours earlier, in a loss to the Indiana Pacers. They allowed Indiana to score 125, and those same Pacers were so good offensively Monday night against the Boston Celtics that they needed overtime to score 27 fewer points.
Mitchell was animated Saturday night. On Monday night, he seemed defeated in his postgame session with the media, as did his team.
â€śWe have to fix it,â€ť Mitchell said. â€śWe did it. Weâ€™re capable. We did it against the Denver Nuggets (in a win earlier in the trip). So, itâ€™s not that we canâ€™t. Weâ€™ve done it. When we donâ€™t have Rudy Gobert back there, our intensity has to turn up. And this is from the first player through 17, or however many players are on our roster. We arenâ€™t defending on a consistent basis, and itâ€™s got to be fixed.â€ť
The harsh reality for the Utah Jazz is this: They are 28-13 at exactly the halfway mark of the season. They are in third place in the Western Conference.
And nobody takes them seriously.
And, in truth, they havenâ€™t given anyone reason to take them seriously.
They have one win against a top team in the league, and that was the Milwaukee Bucks when they were missing Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday. They lost their one game against the Chicago Bulls. Theyâ€™ve been swept by the Heat. They lost at home to the Grizzlies. They lost at home to the Warriors.
This has very much been a season in which the Jazz feel they have a chance to win a title, or at the very least compete for one. But if we are being honest, we are in January, and thereâ€™s little evidence that this roster is capable of taking that next step. The fundamental issues are still plentiful. The Jazz have perhaps the best offense in the league; one can certainly make that argument. But they arenâ€™t stopping people, and you simply wonâ€™t win a title without stopping people. In a guard-and-wing-dominated league, you simply wonâ€™t win a title if you canâ€™t stop opposing guards and wings.
And right now, the Jazz canâ€™t stop opposing guards and wings.
This is why, over the past week, the Jazz have been using 10-day contracts for COVID-19 hardships to in effect hold open tryouts. Theyâ€™ve brought in Danuel House Jr., who was an important 3-and-D contributor to some very good Houston Rockets teams. They wanted to bring in James Ennis, but that fell through. They traded Miye Oni, in part because they wanted the added roster flexibility to try to see what they could add on the margins.
The Jazz are a team that can compete for a championship as is. But as is they are also a flawed team, a team with little margin for error. If this is the team that goes to the playoffs, does it get a bracket that helps it get deep into the postseason? Or does it get a bracket that leads to a first-round exit?
Typically, thatâ€™s too wide a pendulum for a front office that truly hopes to contend. The Jazz came into the regular season hoping to establish themselves as matchup-proof for the playoffs. They have yet to do that. But the surprise is that their margin for error is proving to be this thin. You wouldnâ€™t think at the beginning of the season that they would need the perfect bracket to make a deep run. And yet, that appears to be the situation. And you wouldnâ€™t think they would look lost on the defensive end without Gobert. But they do.
â€śContaining the ball has been big,â€ť guard Mike Conley said. â€śWe had some miscommunications on defense where we left guys open. There were guys out of our lineup, but thereâ€™s no excuses. It starts with us staying in front of our man.â€ť
If the Jazz want to change this narrative, there will certainly be an opportunity to do so. They get the Warriors and the Suns twice each over the next four weeks. They get the Los Angeles Lakers. They get the Brooklyn Nets. They get the Grizzlies. They get the Nuggets again. Itâ€™s a stretch that can cause this story to age poorly, or it can make this story look prophetic.
And the Jazz know what the mistakes have been and what the shortcomings are. Itâ€™s like a high school student telling a parent that the good grades are coming. That the focus on homework, instead of playing Madden on Xbox, is on its way.
And then the parent waits.
Writer: Tony Jones
Source: The Athletic
I truly believe if we don't win the Western Conference Finals this year, Donovan Mitchell will ask to be traded.