SALT LAKE CITY — Mike Conley said what just about everyone has been thinking.
“We’re not good enough to just walk into games and play lackadaisical and take possessions off,” he said after the Jazz lost 120-110 to Houston Saturday at home. “Good teams like tonight will beat us.”
The Jazz, of late, have been very prone to giving up big runs. In the last few weeks, the Jazz have conceded a 27-1 run to Denver, a 13-0 one to Portland, a 17-0 one to Denver, and Houston beat Utah 38-19 in the third quarter on Saturday to pull away for the win.
It’s a trend now, especially when the Jazz play some of the top teams in the league. Utah might be 36-20 on the season but is just 16-16 against current playoff teams. And many of those losses have involved head-scratching moments where the team was simply out-hustled and outworked.
In a game as big as Saturdays — Houston and Utah were playing for the seeding tiebreaker — that focus should have been there. But, yet, for almost an entire quarter, the Jazz’s effort didn’t match Houston’s. And that’s why Utah came away with a loss.
“Our effort in the third quarter — our energy was low,” Conley said. “I think we didn't come out with the same energy that we left the first half with. The group that was in the game in the second quarter really just got the crowd involved, pushed the tempo, played defense, did all the things to kind of get us in the game. And we came out in the third quarter, and we just seem to not have that same energy.”
Why? That’s the question the Jazz have been asking for much of the season.
It’s the same issue that plagued the Jazz during their skid in November and December and during their five-game losing streak January and February.
The good news: They were able to turn it around before.
The bad: It’s kept coming back.
“I think a lot of it is what we can control, just our effort and our ability to come out with the mindset that we are going to be the team that hits first and gets every single loose ball, get every single rebound,” Conley said. “That’s the kind of mindset we need to have.”
Houston is a unique match up. They play small, they play isolation, and, maybe more than any team, make the referees become part of the game. There were plenty of times in the second half that Conley, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert were looking at the official in hopes that a call would come — if only just to answer a call that had been made on the other end.
Mitchell sheepishly smiled as he was asked about those frustrations. He knew he had to be careful with the question.
“He's an expert at it,” Mitchell said of James Harden, who went to the free-throw line nine times on Saturday. “He's mastered it and that's what he does. For us, we just gotta play through it. … We can't really let it affect you in different ways. But there are times we definitely got frustrated. I'm not gonna sit here and lie to you — it's visual … But it's a matter of what you do next."
Things can turn quickly for the Jazz, and they have before. Utah entered the All-Star break with a four-game winning streak with all four wins coming against quality opponents. They’re a good team, but their first two games back from the break have shown they aren’t good enough to like it.
“Overall, I think it was good for us,” Conley said of the break. “A lot of guys needed that. But those are two tough games coming off the break and teams that, one the Spurs and then Houston, that we know we have a history with. They were going to be tough coming in. I just think that we started a little bit slower than we probably would have liked. We just need to find our rhythm a little bit earlier in games.”