Jazz struggling defensively going into game against Clippers

Feb 11, 2017; Charlotte, NC, USA; LA Clippers guard Jamal Crawford (11) reacts to a foul call in the first half against the Charlotte Hornets at Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

SALT LAKE CITY — One of the league’s best defensive teams all season, the Utah Jazz are suddenly struggling to get stops against opponents.

It started with a come-from-ahead 112-105 overtime loss to the Dallas Mavericks when the Jazz surrendered a 21-point lead. The downward trend continued two days later against Boston in a 112-104 loss to the Boston Celtics.

Now another big challenge awaits Monday when Utah hosts the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers (33-21) are a half-game behind the Jazz in the battle for a potential fourth seed in the Western Conference.

Boston shot a season-high 59.2 percent from the floor against Utah, the highest percentage of any Jazz opponent this season. The Celtics never trailed and had little trouble at the rim and on the perimeter.

It turned out to be an uncharacteristic performance for Utah (34-21) in its home arena. The Jazz have allowed opponents to score just 94.1 points on 43.3 percent shooting from the field in 29 home games this season.

“We just didn’t play with enough force on either end,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We weren’t connected. We just have to communicate better, where five guys got to know what we are doing, not three. When you have that situation, you’re just not able to execute. You’re not as urgent.”

Los Angeles has a bit of momentum coming into Salt Lake City. The Clippers picked up their second straight win after beating Charlotte 107-102 on Saturday. This two-game streak comes after a stretch where Los Angeles dropped five of six games.

Even without injured point guard Chris Paul, the Clippers are starting to find more solid footing on offense. Against Charlotte, Los Angeles shared the ball about as well as a coach could draw it up in a playbook. The Clippers totaled assists on 26 of 40 field goals.

That’s exactly what Los Angeles coach Doc Rivers wants to see from his team while Paul is absent.

“The ball movement was beautiful,” Rivers said. “On most nights, if you have ball movement like that, you’re going to win. We just didn’t make all the shots, but if we move the ball like that, we’re going to be really good.”

This is the second of four games between the Clippers and the Jazz this season. Los Angeles posted an 88-75 victory over Utah on Oct. 30 behind 19 points from Austin Rivers and 16 rebounds from DeAndre Jordan.

The Clippers have dominated the series in recent seasons. They have won 16 of their last 17 games against the Jazz, including eight straight in Salt Lake City.

One key matchup to watch will be the battle in the post between Jordan and Rudy Gobert.

Jordan ranks second in the NBA in blocks per game (2.3) and Gobert is third (2.2). Conversely, Gobert has a league-best 138 total blocks and has blocked at least one shot in a league-leading 52 games this season.