The Utah Jazz finished out preseason play with a victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in what was their most closely contested bout yet.
In the final game of preseason play, the Utah Jazz took on what was likely their toughest foe yet. Yet given the fact that said foe was the Los Angeles Lakers, that likely isn’t saying much. Nevertheless, the final game of preseason was an exciting one as the Utah Jazz were very much tested but they also thankfully rose to that challenge.
After a contest that was neck and neck the entire way (both team’s largest lead was only seven points), Utah managed to pull ahead late and win by a score of 105-99. The victory put the Jazz at 5-0 in preseason play, an excellent way to start out a brand new 2017-18 campaign and give the new-look Utah team confidence heading into the upcoming season.
And while the start of the regular season, which gets underway exactly a week from today for the Jazz, will be the absolute true test, there’s no denying that their five games so far, including their gutsy victory last night, were all very reassuring. Here’s the last bit of positives and negatives that Utah exhibited in their final rehearsal before the stakes are heightened.
What Went Right?
Overwhelmingly, there are two names that come to mind in regards to what went right for the Jazz – Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. Gobert was an absolute animal on both ends of the court. His defensive prowess has become a staple of his game, but his offensive impact continues to be dramatically underrated.
Nevertheless, any watching last night’s contest surely would have been hard-pressed to deny his influence on offense. He finished with 29 points on 10-of-12 shooting from the field and 9-of-11 from the free throw line. On top of that, he also pulled down 13 rebounds and recorded two blocks. Yes, Rudy was in mid-season form. That, or if this is just preseason Rudy, we truly are in for a treat once the regular season gets underway.
Then there was Donovan Mitchell. Although the rookie is sure to have his ups and downs during his first season in the NBA, and even had them in last night’s game, overall the bout against the Lakers was one of his finest performances yet. Mitchell finished with 26 points on 10-of-20 shooting from the field. He went just 2-of-9 from deep, but one of those was extremely timely as his clutch shot essentially sealed the victory late in the game.
Mitchell looks more and more as if he’s going to be a major contributor for the Jazz this season. And if his electrifying play and intensity on both ends of the floor continues, he’s going to be very difficult to keep off of the court.
Aside from Gobert and Mitchell, Rubio also had a standout performance. He put up 22 points, albeit on a less than efficient 6-of-18 shooting night, but he dropped several tough and timely jump shots that were at least a promising improvement over his early preseason performances.
As a team, although the Jazz struggled overall defensively (more on that later), they did do a solid job of defending the perimeter – something that had been a concern in previous preseason contests. The Lakers shot just 6-of-22 (27.3 percent) from deep and were largely neutralized in that area.
Last of all, and perhaps most importantly, simply put the Jazz were able to rally from a late deficit and come away with the win. The grit and determination they showed in a preseason game was commendable and an absolutely wonderful sign of the kind of passion they’re going to play with all season long. The Jazz may have lost some of the talent they had last year, but there’s no questioning that they have no shortage of heart.
And in my book, that counts for more than just about anything else.
What Went Wrong?
Unfortunately, part of the reason why this game was the closest preseason bout was because several more things went wrong than usual. Part of that can be credited to the play of the Lakers, part of it can be credited to the fact that the Jazz were playing on the second night of a back-to-back and part of it could simply be because the Jazz lacked focus in a final preseason game.
The Jazz struggled on defense most of the night as they seemed to be a step slow on several of their rotations and on several occasions, allowed the Lakers to get easy baskets right at the rim. The defense did tighten up down the stretch when it really mattered, but it would have been much better to see it all game long.
Furthermore, the Jazz didn’t do a good job of taking care of the ball as they turned it over 21 times compared to LA’s 18. This was a vast turnaround compared to their previous bout against the Phoenix Suns where the Jazz forced 31 turnovers that led to 47 points. Forcing 18 giveaways was still a good clip in and of itself, but the fact that the Jazz didn’t win the turnover battle was a discouraging sign.
Beyond that, Utah’s three-point shooting left plenty to be desired as they went just 7-of-26 (26.9 percent) from behind the arc. Their offense had been lights out throughout the preseason and their 105 points and their 46.2 percentage from the field were pretty solid, but the lackluster performance from deep certainly hurt the overall offense.
On an individual note, perhaps the most discouraging development of the night was the fact that Rodney Hood logged just four minutes before leaving the game with neck soreness after which he would not return. Hopefully it was just a precautionary measure and he could have come back in a high-stakes situation, but the fact of the matter is that Rodney Hood has suffered a seemingly endless number of injuries, so to already add another one to the list is pretty discouraging.
At some point, one has to wonder whether Hood is being overly cautious or if he simply is injury-prone. Either way, given the fact that he’s supposed to be Utah’s new go-to guy and have a huge year, if he’s constantly missing time due to injury, it’s going to be hard for him to get into any sort of rhythm and produce at the level the Jazz need him to.
Hopefully, when the regular season tips off, Hood will be back in action and one hundred percent ready to deliver in the way the Jazz expect of him as their offense and overall success will likely depend on his contributions.
Despite the fact that this win wasn’t as convincing as Utah’s prior preseason victories, I loved to see them rally in a close-game situation and come out on top. Even when shots aren’t falling, the Jazz will have to find ways to stay close and grind out a win, and they proved capable of that last night.
With four blowouts and a hard-fought finish under their belts to go 5-0 in preseason, all I can say is I can’t wait for regular season play to finally get underway.