Unfortunate and discouraging: Jazz head into All-Star break asking familiar questions

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SALT LAKE CITY — Quin Snyder summed up the team's feelings following Wednesday's shocking loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles.

"This is an unfortunate way to go into the All-Star break," he said.

Unfortunate because of how it happened: The Jazz coughed up a 12-point lead in the final six minutes of Wednesday's game and it came at a bad time.

Utah appeared to have turned the corner after a rough patch of losses. Following a January stretch that featured COVID-19 outbreaks, injuries and much more losses than wins, the Jazz found their footing. The team rolled off six-straight victories, including a few in dominant fashion, and they were healthy, confident and winning again.

On Wednesday, the rug got pulled out from under the team and exposed some familiar problems.

"We've done a lot of good things the past two to three weeks. We've got some work to do as a group," Donovan Mitchell said. "But I think we can look back, especially the past month, even though January was rough, and say, 'OK, like we can really do some things.' A night like tonight, it's discouraging."

Mitchell went on to say that he doesn't think the Jazz need to necessarily overreact to the loss. But what should be the proper reaction?

It was the 10th time the Jazz have lost a game where they held a double-digit lead this season, and it's becoming a trend whenever they visit Los Angeles. Just last month, they allowed the Lakers to come back from 10 points down in the second half to win; and who can forget the Jazz losing a 25-point lead to the Clippers on that very same floor in Game 6 of last year's second-round series.

It's a problem.

Is is schematic? Those losses in Los Angeles were all pretty similar: The Jazz jumped out to a lead, the team went small and a big comeback occurred.

Is it simply a matter of bad mentality? Snyder hinted that that's at least partially to blame, saying: "It's just a mental focus. It's treating every possession as important."

To that point, a frustrated Mitchell said, "In a way, it's a good reminder but I'm tired of figuring things out like this through losses."

That's especially true when the team apparently hasn't ever really figured it out. On the eve before the All-Star break, most of the Jazz looked like they were ready for the hiatus to start early.

Rudy Gobert, who said he wasn't 100% as he came back from left-calf strain, was unusually ineffective and the Lakers actively attacked him — especially LeBron James — as they made their fourth-quarter comeback. Gobert switched too easily onto James late out on the perimeter (something Snyder said wasn't supposed to happen) and then was fairly lackadaisical to allow him to take an uncontested 3-pointer.

Gobert said it was because James had just missed one, so he was daring him to take another. In a late-game situation against arguably the best player to ever play, Gobert dared him to take a shot? That logic doesn't seem sound; it just seems lazy.

Elsewhere, Mike Conley was just 2 of 9 for 6 points and a minus-25 as he was swallowed up at the rim time and time again. Then there's Royce O'Neale, who openly admitted that his two late turnovers may have cost his team the game. Both of the turnovers were indeed head-scratching plays.

On the first turnover, he tried to throw a cross-court pass to the corner over the top of the entire Lakers defense; it was easily intercepted. On the second, he threw the ball right at Malik Monk after refusing to shoot two open looks from behind the arc. He owned the mistakes, but it's far from the first time he's passed up an open look.

It all made the collapse feel stunning and all too predictable at the same time.

"Prior to this game, I think we felt like we were getting better," Snyder said. "I still believe that's the case."

Snyder isn't lying there; the Jazz have been better. There's been a renewed sense of urgency on the defensive end with Mitchell leading the way. The All-Star guard missed two weeks due to a concussion and spent the time dissecting how to best impact the game on each play, and he's now implementing what he learned.

The Jazz have been good and had won six-straight games before Wednesday, and Mitchell has played some of his best basketball of his entire career (playoffs notwithstanding). But Wednesday's loss revealed the old habits that have long plagued the team that are still there.

That's why it was so discouraging; that's why it was so unfortunate.

"We have time off. We're gonna get back, get locked back in and get ready," Mitchell said. "We all know what we have to do and we're ready to make this push come the second half."

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