Jazz, Pelicans both seek adjustments on defense

NBA Basketball

The Utah Jazz and the New Orleans Pelicans began 2022 with losses against two of the best teams in the NBA.

Only one can get their first win of the new year when they meet Monday night in New Orleans.

The Jazz lost to the NBA-best Golden State Warriors 123-116 on Saturday night, the same night the Pelicans fell to the Milwaukee Bucks 136-113.

“We didn’t play our best, but you can look at that and we can take a lot of things from this — closing, execution, turnovers, defensive lapses,” guard Donovan Mitchell said. “Those are the things we can take away from game like this. Luckily, it’s early. We’ve just got to come back ready.”

Utah played small at times because of the absence of backup center Hassan Whiteside, who was in the league’s concussion protocol. Whiteside was listed as questionable for Monday.

“Not having Hassan, with the way we play, it did hurt us (Saturday) for sure,” starting center Rudy Gobert said.

In Whiteside’s absence the Jazz turned to Rudy Gay, who at 6-foot-8 is four inches shorter than Whiteside, as the backup to Gobert.

“It’s different without having a traditional big in Hassan or Rudy back there, because we base our defense solely on forcing everybody to our big,” guard Mike Conley said. “So when that happens, we have to retrain our minds and readjust.”

The Warriors finished the game with 39 assists, compared to the Jazz’s 19.

“It’s clear that (the small lineup) doesn’t have the same continuity. I don’t think that would be expected right now,” coach Quin Snyder said. “But obviously, that group, being thrown in that situation, particularly on the defensive end, it’s challenging for everyone.”

The Pelicans’ defense was not up to the challenge in their loss to the Bucks. Milwaukee scored the second-most points by a New Orleans opponent this season.

“It was a tough matchup for us,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “We fought early. The second half, it got away from us a little bit. We looked like a team that hadn’t practiced a lot, to get a rhythm to get guys back healthy.”

The Pelicans got back guards Josh Hart (ankle) and Nickeil Alexander-Walker (COVID), but played without their top two scorers — Brandon Ingram (Achilles) and Jonas Valanciunas (COVID). Ingram and Valanciunas are questionable for Monday.

Hart narrowly missed a triple-double, finishing with 14 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, but Alexander-Walker made just 4 of 16 shots, with 13 of those shots from 3-point range. The Pelicans were 16 of 51 on 3-point atempts.

“Nickeil had open looks,” Green said. “We had open looks as a team. … I thought we did a great job of creating quality looks. We just have to knock them down.”

Reserve center Jaxson Hayes scored a career-high 23 points in 28 minutes.

The Pelicans will host the Western Conference’s best in a four-day span. They face Phoenix on Tuesday and Golden State on Thursday.

The Pelicans and Jazz split back-to-back meetings earlier in the season in Salt Lake City. New Orleans won 98-97 on Nov. 26 and Utah won 127-105 the next night.

–Field Level Media

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