SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell animatedly used his hands to try and explain what he expected Rudy Gobert to do on a roll.
Mitchell had just been fouled as he made his way to the basket during Utah’s loss to the Lakers on Wednesday. That foul that was more of a gift than anything. The play had been botched. Gobert didn’t go to where Mitchell thought he was going, and the lob at the rim wasn’t there.
So, Gobert and Mitchell talked it out.
In the third quarter of that game, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope got two layups on back-to-back possessions on the same exact play. The Lakers set a back screen on Mitchell to free a lane for Caldwell-Pope to slip inside, and Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic botched the switch. Frustration showed on Bogdanovic’s face as he confronted Mitchell.
The two talked it out.
If anything, those conversations were positives.
“It requires five guys playing together,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “Those breakdowns can occur in so many different ways. But invariably, the common thread is probably some sort of miscommunication. Sometimes it's silence. Sometimes somebody does something you don't see. That's where it stems from — we're not playing as a unit.”
Those two instances cast a light on what’s hampered the Jazz over the last six games. The Jazz aren’t on their current skid because of the schedule or the travel; it’s because they haven’t been playing well. They haven’t played as a unit offensively, and that’s led to turnovers and poor defense on the other end. It’s a vicious cycle and one they haven’t been able to pull out of.
The Jazz have seen their once top-ranked defensive rating fall to No. 10 because they’ve allowed a copious amount transition points (the Lakers had 32 alone on Wednesday) and simple things like back cuts to beat them. So when Bogdanovic and Mitchell went at it after the plays, it was a good sign. At least someone was finally talking.
“I think that's what makes us better,” Mitchell said. “A lot of times when you have a group so connected like we are, it tends to kind of be nice. I don't know, like let each other have it, that's what makes us better. I think having a guy like that being able to explain to me what I did wrong — while it may look like it's aggressive, but he's explaining to me. And I think, obviously, we figured it out six points later. But I think that's what we need.”
Mitchell used the word connected, and that’s been one of the things the Jazz have been known for since Mitchell arrived. The locker room has always been a strength, and this season hasn’t been much different. The group might be mostly new, but the playful banter and ribbing that was so paramount in the team’s chemistry over the last two playoff seasons remained.
On Wednesday night, however, the Jazz locker room was a quiet place. Most of the players had cleared out before the media was allowed to enter, leaving only Mitchell, Gobert and Jeff Green to speak on the team’s performance. There weren’t any conversations happening or jokes being tossed around — the players just quietly getting ready to go home.
The challenge, Mitchell said, is to stay connected with each other through this stretch.
“It's easy to kind of point (the finger at others) in time like this,” Mitchell said. “No offense to you guys (the media), but allowing that to kind of create the pull. We have guys that definitely want to be around each other, and I don't think that separation is going to be there. So we got to be able to first have that, which we do, and then we gotta come in and look ourselves in the mirror, all 15 of us.”
A truthful look into the mirror won’t be all that flattering: Mitchell’s overreliance on midrange floaters; Joe Ingles struggling to adapt to his new role off the bench; too much ball stopping on offense; the bench being shallow; the defense simply not being able to stop the elite teams.
There’s plenty of blame to go around, plenty of things to fix. The spirited on-court conversations weren’t a bad place to start. They were about holding each other accountable, themselves included.
“I think that was one of the most productive ones we’ve had,” Mitchell said of his interaction with Bogdanovic. “I think there are times we need to go back and forth. And at the end of the day, that was my fault and he let me know it.”
The losses are weighing on the players, no doubt. But maybe more so is the way they've been playing. Losing when playing well, that's one thing. Getting run out of the gym in multiple games, that's another.
“What we're doing in the past six games, it's not who we are and there's not really much coach can say. It's really just on us in the locker room to figure it out,” Mitchell said.
A few more talks won’t hurt.