Whatever the things you use in your mind to rationalize situations, we’re not allowed to go there, myself included. —Jazz coach Quin Snyder
SALT LAKE CITY — This December hasn’t been kind to the Utah Jazz.
Honestly, barely fair.
During the team's toughest stretch this season, the Jazz have faced the crème de la crème, with one final game before the new year at 6 p.m. Saturday versus the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Tipoff starts at 6 p.m. MT in Vivint Arena.
“Getting home is always nice, but right now the road can’t be the competition,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “Whatever the things you use in your mind to rationalize situations, we’re not allowed to go there, myself included.”
On Wednesday, the Jazz allowed 42 third-quarter points in a 126-101 loss to the defending champion, Golden State Warriors.
The loss marked the third in a row and 10th in the last 12 games.
In 14 December games, the Jazz are 4-10 with -5.9 rating, which is the second-worst behind Orlando (-10.9) during this month, but their competition has been nothing short of elite.
It started with back-to-back home games against New Orleans and Washington then at Oklahoma City, and back home versus Houston, before taking off for a six-game road trip at Milwaukee, Chicago, Boston, Cleveland, Houston and OKC.
Utah would then host San Antonio and OKC, again, before two more road games Tuesday and Wednesday at Denver and Golden State. Guys aren’t using that as an excuse, though.
“I don’t want to look at the schedule,” Snyder said. “Really my perspective on the schedule is, yeah, it’s hard, but it’s something we have to use to help us improve.
“Competition is a mirror, and when you put yourself up to the mirror, particularly against some of the better teams, you get an honest look at who you are,” he added. “And then you have to look and ask yourself if you like it or not, and if you didn’t, do something about it and that’s where we are.”
These last two losses in particular, to the Nuggets and Warriors, the Jazz have lacked intensity and consistent offense in the half court setting, while breaking down on defense.
To Utah’s credit, injuries continue to plague the lineup.
Derrick Favors missed two games this month with a concussion, Donovan Mitchell sat for two with a big toe bruise, Joe Johnson returned from a right wrist tendon instability and Rodney returned from left ankle soreness while Rudy Gobert (left PCL sprain) and Raul Neto (concussion) continue to sit.
Gobert will be re-evaluated this weekend after missing the last seven games. Teams around the league certainly notice the difference without him in the lineup.
“They’re different right now because Gobert is out and that changes everything,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “When he’s in there, it changes the entire game in terms of how you have to attack and how you have to score.”
Utah is still formidable and very well coached, but is struggling to find offense.
In the 107-83 loss to Denver Tuesday, the Jazz shot a season-low 32.1 percent from the field. Jazz veteran Thabo Sefolosha received a DNP that game but returned to the starting lineup the next night against Golden State, but even that change in the rotation was only relevant until halftime when the Warriors went on the big run to balloon the lead.
Snyder is trying to find minutes for all his guys but it gets hard from a coaching standpoint.
“You don’t see many NBA teams that play 10 guys,” Snyder said. “Nobody plays 11. We’ve got a situation with Thabo (Sefolosha) and Jonas (Jerebko) and Joe (Johnson) and Derrick (Favors) has been in that mix too when Rudy (Gobert) has been out where we have three guys that we trust.
“They’re all very different players.”
With all the injuries causing inconsistency, the Jazz are still finding their identity through an assortment of lineups. Utah is just 3-15 on the road this season, but a tough month like December against the league’s top-tier teams certainly doesn’t help.
“They play extremely hard. I love Coach Quin (Snyder) and how he gets those guys to play with movement,” said Warriors forward Kevin Durant. “The ball moves a lot.
"It’s not like they’re zooming up and down the court but the ball moves a lot, they’re physical,” he added. “They’ve got a bunch of wings that can score so I think it’s a matter of teams that just every single game to just figure out what they want to do out there. I think they’re still learning, especially with a guy like Donovan Mitchell who is the leading scorer. It’s going to take him some time to kind of figure out the NBA game on a different level.”