Utah Jazz: Still Looking Up At The NBA’s Elite Teams

Feb 9, 2017; Dallas, TX, USA; Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) dribbles as Dallas Mavericks guard Wesley Matthews (23) defends during the first quarter at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Jazz looked like they were catching up to the NBA’s elite teams but after losing their last two, they’re only 1.5 games clear of sixth in the West.

Having started the week talking about heading into the All-Star break on the back of a 6-0 run, the Utah Jazz have gone 2-2 this week. After dropping 120+ points on the Atlanta Hawks and New Orleans Pelicans to open the week, the Jazz gave up a 21-point lead to lose to the Dallas Mavericks in overtime and were purely outplayed on their own court by the Boston Celtics.

The Celtics shot 59 percent from the field and 43 percent from beyond the arc, which blew away the Jazz and their 40 percent shooting from the field and just 25 percent from range. The 112-104 scoreline could be considered flattering with Jazz coach Quin Snyder questioning the team’s desperation to win in the post-match press conference:

“I’m worried we didn’t play well tonight and I’m a little frustrated. I feel like we can play better. We didn’t come out with the right urgency and competitiveness.”

After a loss that Basketball Insiders’ Ben Dowsett labeled the worst defensive performance in the Quin Snyder era, the Jazz have been brought down a peg.

The optimism surrounding a potential 38-19 record before nine days off over the All-Star break seemed within reach on Monday while 37-20 would have made for an acceptable worst-case scenario.

The week started off with the most optimistic Jazz fans threatening to mention the conference finals. A lot can change in three days in the NBA.

The best the Jazz can do now is enter the break with a 36-21 record, which would still be good enough to retain the fourth spot in the Western Conference. But it’s not as comfortable as it once looked like it was going to be.

On Wednesday, the Jazz were looking to claw back the three games required to catch the third-seeded Houston Rockets. After Saturday night’s capitulation, they are all of a sudden looking over their shoulder at the fast approaching Los Angeles Clippers (0.5 games back), who visit on Monday night.

Celebrations early in the week of a top-four seed coincided with the claims from some that Derrick Favors is now healthy enough to contribute regularly and likewise, Dante Exum had developed enough to do the same.

Favors has only scored six points in each of the last two games while Exum has been poor in the 24 minutes he has played in the same two games, which included 18 minutes in a start against the Hawks.

The two weeks before the All-Star break were meant to be an announcement to the NBA that the Utah Jazz are ready to compete with the NBA elite. Instead, it looks like they have uncovered one more aspect of the team they need to improve upon before making the leap.

If the Jazz are relying on Favors and Exum to be key components of an extended playoff run this season, they may be left wanting. The inconsistencies of Favors’ health and Exum’s experience are unlikely to prevail positively in four out of seven games against high-level opponents.

With guard Rodney Hood returning after the All-Star break, the regularity in which Exum is expected to produce may become a non-issue.

As a result on this dip in form, the Jazz might have just uncovered their largest deficiency, the power forward position, which is more questionable than their point guard position going forward.

Favors is the guy we all want at full health starting for this Jazz team. With him, they are a legitimate threat but without him the responsibility falls on the aging shoulders of Joe Johnson and sophomore Trey Lyles. Both provide different qualities in their role of backup forward but neither fills the role entirely. Johnson has the shooting touch but lacks the size to bang bodies with big power forwards, while Lyles provides the opposite. He’s listed at 6’10” but shoots 38 percent from the field.

With Favors, the only approach is to wait and see how his knees cope with regular minutes but if the Jazz want to secure the fourth seed in the West, they can’t wait for Favors to regain his 2015-16 form.

As the Sunday rolls by and we enter a new week, the Jazz have an opportunity to regain some confidence and begin to rebuild the lead between themselves and the approaching fifth and sixth seeds in the West. The All-Star break has worked wonders for teams in the past but the Jazz don’t want to be fixing problems of their own in practice, rather, creating problems for the remaining opposition teams the face this season.

It may only be two losses but it’s the fashion in which they occurred that had a dejected Snyder suggesting post-match that both the starting and bench units need to improve. It’s going to need to happen fast with the Clippers visiting on Monday and planning to take back their first round home court advantage in the playoffs.

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