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A 'cold heart' and 'good spirits': How the Jazz are responding to losing 4 games in final minute


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SALT LAKE CITY — There's been some vexing smirks coming from the Utah Jazz of late.

Remember the 10-3 start that included clutch wins over Minnesota, New Orleans and Memphis? And the close wins over Phoenix and Golden State? Turns out, clutch is a fickle thing.

For the most part, the Jazz have continued to run their ball-movement offense in the closing minutes, and the team definitely hasn't lacked effort in those moments. It's just that sometimes the ball bounces the other way, and it's been bouncing that way a lot lately.

Utah has dropped its last four games by a combined 13 points — and the last two on the games' final possessions.

Sure, the Jazz could have done things better down the stretch and throughout the course of the entire game, but there's also been some bad luck involved, too.

Miami's Tyler Herro hitting a leaning 3-pointer through traffic at the buzzer on Saturday? That's some bad luck.

Sacramento's De'Aaron Fox getting just enough contact on the ball to steal the rebound that led to the game-winning shot? That, too.

Add in some missed free throws from usually reliable shooters, and, yeah, sometimes you just have to shrug off the endings.

"Of course, it's a tough stretch — could easily be 4-0 in the last four games. That's the NBA and nobody's gonna feel sorry for us. We've got to figure out a way to get those wins. I'm still confident in our team and what we're doing," said Lauri Markkanen, who averaged 31.5 points and 11.8 rebounds during the four-game losing skid.

In each of those four losses, the game has been within a single possession in the final minute — with the Jazz being ahead or tied in two of those. It would stand to reason then that the Jazz should have won at least one of the games; and if they got a bit lucky maybe, as Markkanen stated, all of them.

Given that perspective, the Jazz haven't had a hard time moving on from these defeats.

Jordan Clarkson said the team was in "good spirits," and Walker Kessler mentioned that "I don't think they're starting to weigh on us."

As for coach Will Hardy, he's more concerned with what's happened in the first 47 or so minutes than the last few possessions. Those moments are definitely heightened, but a few more made shots against Golden State wouldn't have meant the Jazz played exceptional throughout the game; just like Herro missing Saturday's game-winner wouldn't have changed Utah's defensive performance in the first half against Miami.

"The margins of winning and losing in this league are incredibly small," Hardy said. "And like I've said before: Being emotional is very easy — anybody can do that — but being able to step back and look at the game with a little bit of a cold heart, that's what they pay us to do, so we understand what we need to do better every night.

"I think it's really on us as a staff to continue to maintain poise and perspective on what's actually going on in these games. So we don't end up over focusing on a couple of plays that happen at the end of each game."

There's good to be taken from the close losses, too. On Saturday, as an example, the Jazz came back from a 7-point deficit with three minutes left to tie the game with 6.3 seconds remaining.

"I think that in order for us to stay positive, we have to take the positive out of it and be encouraged by that," Kessler said.

Encouraged and confident that the clutch wins that were so prevalent in the early part of the season can return.

"We are doing a good job with things; we've just got to close games," Clarkson said. "Last night was a rebound; tonight, my free throws and stuff at the end of the game. But in terms of the team, I think we're in a good place. … If we get in these close games again, I think we will finish a lot of them."

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