Progress for the Utah Jazz is coming in small steps.
The Jazz have been consistently inconsistent since the NBA restart. Heading into Wednesday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies near Orlando, Utah is finally showing some signs it can turn a corner and get into playoff form soon.
For the first half of a 116-108 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday, the Jazz kept pace with the Western Conference leaders on both ends of the court.
Utah (42-25) ran out of steam offensively late in the third quarter when the Lakers used a decisive 19-5 run to pull away for a victory that clinched the top seed in the West. Still, the Jazz showed improved defensive tenacity that had been absent in previous games against New Orleans and Oklahoma City.
The Lakers were ineffective from the perimeter for long stretches. It forced Los Angeles to attack the rim. While a 42-point outburst from Anthony Davis allowed that strategy to work, Utah finished with a 42-38 edge on the glass. Their ability to rebound against a taller Los Angeles team offered hope going forward against less daunting opponents.
“They really put pressure on the rim. I thought we did a better job coming over and helping one another,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “I thought we had really good energy and activity on defense.”
Offense remains a work in progress, especially on the perimeter. Utah shot a dismal 12-of-43 (.279) from 3-point range. Scoring baskets from outside was also a major problem in the team’s first two contests in Florida.
Donovan Mitchell, who made four 3-pointers en route to scoring a team-high 33 points against L.A., said the Jazz just need to maintain an aggressive mentality on the perimeter in order to turn things around.
“The biggest thing for us is continue to take them,” Mitchell said. “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. Honestly, we got some good looks we wanted, sometimes they just don’t fall in.”
Memphis finds itself in a similar boat trying to get things going on offense. The Grizzlies have lost three straight contests since the NBA restart.
A big culprit for Memphis in all three losses — including a 109-99 setback to the Pelicans on Monday — is slow starts. The Grizzlies are stumbling out of the gate and being forced to play catch-up for the bulk of 48 minutes.
Memphis (32-36) fell behind early against New Orleans, shooting just 39 percent in the opening quarter. The Grizzlies eventually rallied behind a 13-2 run and claimed a 68-67 lead shortly after halftime. But the Pelicans answered with a 12-3 spurt to enter the fourth quarter with a 79-74 lead.
“We’re a good second-half team, but the second half — just two quarters — isn’t going to win a basketball game,” Memphis guard Ja Morant said. “We know we just got to find a way to play all 48 and we’ll be able to come out with wins.”
Snapping the losing streak will require more consistent outside shooting. The Grizzlies have made just 28 percent of their shot attempts from long distance over the past three games, while attempting an average of 38.3 3-pointers per contest.
The math does not add up to a winning formula and Memphis needs to fix it in a hurry to avoid having a playoff spot slip out of reach over the next five games. The Grizzlies are holding on to eighth place, two games ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers.
“Our offense has got to be better,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said. “We got to give ourselves a chance. I thought we got some great looks (against New Orleans). That’s something we’ll overcome.”
–Field Level Media