SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz lost to the Trail Blazers in Portland last Friday by 32 points, and it probably wasn't even that close.
The rematch at home for the Jazz got the team a lot closer, but it still wasn't good enough. A lot went wrong in the 105-94 loss, including a prayer answered for Nicolas Batum, but the Jazz got a lot better since their first meeting — just not good enough.
“We were able to stay out of rotations for the most part,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “(LaMarcus) Aldridge is a load, Damian (Lillard) is a load coming off the pick-and-roll, Mo (Williams) is kind of tough to defend on the pick-and-roll.”
Corbin has been changing his strategy for defending the pick-and-roll over the past year and now seems to be set on a non-rotation defense. Basically it involves players sticking with their original player through the screen so they don't have mismatches.
It seems to be how Corbin will start playing the pick-and-roll in the future. It might change a few times with different teams and matchups. The Jazz's defense has been very poor so far this season, but this could be the first step toward an improving defense.
In the first game, the Blazers put up 130 with Derrick Favors on the floor. This game it was “just” 105, but the Blazers are the best team in the West and the second-best scoring team in the league.
The Jazz are slowly improving their defense, but it isn't good enough.
The narrative of this game might have changed had Batum's 30-foot shot not gone in as the shot clock ran down late in the game.
“Sometimes you get unlucky and sometimes you get lucky,” Trey Burke said. “I wouldn't say that was a lucky shot, but it was more likely that he's going to miss that shot, but he made it tonight. It's definitely unfortunate that he hit it. I feel like we still would have been in the game had he missed it.”
The Jazz defended the Blazers for 23.5 seconds, but a late bad shot went up and it went in. The Jazz had trimmed an 11-point deficit with 4:31 left to five points with 1:28 left. The Jazz had momentum on their side. A good defensive possession ended with the ball in Batum's hands six feet beyond the arc.
“I was thinking about rebounding,” Burke said. “As soon as he shot it I went straight to the rim, I was prepared to get a rebound and go right down the court. I see that it went and I just went, 'ahh' it was a breaker.”
The Jazz have started to adapt to life without Favors and Marvin Williams. Andris Biedrins and Mike Harris gave the Jazz solid time in a backup role. Diante Garrett continues his play as a backup point guard and Alec Burks is starting to find his rhythm.
In 25 minutes, Burks put up 20 points on 8-11 shooting. He has averaged 17.4 points per game in the month of December while shooting 51.7 percent from the field. He is also hitting from outside, shooting 62.5 percent from 3-point range.
His numbers are much higher than they were in November. He scored 10 points per game. He only shot 37 percent from the field with 27 percent from beyond the arc. With Burke solidifying the point guard spot, Burks has been able to play off the ball and become effective. Even his free-throw rebounding and assist numbers have gone up by almost one per game.
Even with Burks' stellar play, it isn't enough yet, especially with Hayward's continued shooting woes. He shot 43 percent Monday night, 6-14, which isn't terrible, but that is his second-best shooting performance since Nov. 13 against the Pelicans.
The Jazz are starting to solidify. Enes Kanter is stepping up with his new starting gig. Jeremy Evans is giving his all to defend the larger Aldridge and Burke is still showing why he is the point guard of the future. The Jazz are showing very well, but the show isn't producing wins, at least not yet.