SALT LAKE CITY — On Friday night, the Utah Jazz will play a Portland team that didn’t arrive in Utah until after midnight following a late game at home on Thursday.
That was once a pretty good indicator it was going to be a tough night for the Blazers come game time. Short rest, high altitude — it has all the makings of a win for the Jazz. But Utah has struggled against teams in that exact scenario, and especially recently.
Over the course of Utah's current five-game losing streak, the Jazz have played three teams who were on the second night of a back-to-back.
A home loss to the Rockets, a road loss to the Blazers, and then the shocking home defeat to Denver on Wednesday. The Jazz simply haven’t been able to take advantage of some scheduling help.
And it goes back further, too.
The Jazz have played five games against Western Conference playoff contenders who were on the second game of a back-to-back; they've gone 0-5.
What’s worse is they have rarely been competitive. In those five games, Utah has lost by an average of 10.4 points.
Oh, and the Rockets were without James Harden and Russell Westbrook and the Nuggets were down to just seven players total when they rolled into Salt Lake and beat Utah on little rest.
So much for scheduled wins.
“We are not coming in thinking we have a better chance to win or not because a team is coming into a back-to-back,” Mike Conley said. “Or vice versa. If we are coming into a back-to-back, we don’t feel like we are behind the eight ball. It’s a mindset thing.”
Be it a mindset or a physical thing, it does seem to affect teams. While the Lakers (6-0) and the Nuggets (7-2) have been superb on the back end of back-to-backs this year, most teams do struggle. The Clippers are just 4-4 in such games, the Rockets are 3-3, Mavs are 4-3, and the Jazz are 3-2.
It has an impact. It’s why the league has been so keen on trying to reduce the number of back-to-backs. It helps players stay healthy and eliminates teams playing at a disadvantage.
The Jazz’s struggles to beat tired teams is more surprising considering that four of the five losses to potential Western Conference playoff teams have come at home. It’s a troubling trend because of what it might show about the Jazz’s ability to finish off teams.
“You have a team that’s on a back-to-back and you’re up 15,” Rudy Gobert said. “Your focus has got to be at the highest level; that’s when you’ve got to give the last punch and go up 20 or 25. But instead, we chose to just get comfortable, give the ball away, give up offensive rebounds and do all that.”
The three recent losses to road-weary teams further highlight Utah’s problems over the last couple of weeks. This is a tired team that looks like it desperately needs to get to the All-Star break. After scorching through a soft part of their schedule, the Jazz have looked a step slow many nights over the five-game losing streak.
“This is one of the hardest points of the season,” Conley said. “You have a lot of guys that have played a lot of games and bodies are starting to wear down a little. The mind starts to go a little and it starts to wonder. And that’s understandable. I think the good teams, the great teams, find ways to push through that, find ways to stay locked in for another 9-10 days to finish off the first half of the year and come back refreshed.”
The Jazz, though, might want to take some cues from the teams they’ve been playing. Turns out you don’t always need to fully rested to get some wins.