It’s kind of like a mission. We can have the mindset that we’re on a mission. Every game is going to be tough in its own way. —Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert
DALLAS — Throughout the course of an 82-game NBA season, there are outcomes that simply make you scratch your head and wonder, “How in the heck did that happen!?”
That’s happened twice to the Jazz in the past couple of months against, of all teams, the struggling and rebuilding Atlanta Hawks.
The first head-scratcher happened on Jan. 22 when Utah lost at Atlanta 104-90. Tuesday’s follow-up head-scratcher was even more shocking — a 99-94 defeat to the 20-win Hawks that snapped a nine-game winning streak.
“We weren’t really connected today on offense,” Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell said. “That’s all it is — just an off night. We’ll get better offensively.”
That will be critical as Utah begins a three-game road trip — including a Texas two-step against the Mavericks on Thursday and at San Antonio on Friday followed by a showdown with the Golden State Warriors in Oakland on Sunday.
It really shouldn’t be that hard to get better offensively, either — not because of their opponents’ defenses but because of how lousy the Jazz shot against Atlanta.
Utah missed 56 of 89 shots (37.1 percent shooting) and went a church-ball-like 6 for 34 from 3-point range. Mitchell hit only 1 of 10 3s and normally reliable Joe Ingles missed 7 of 8 out deep, including an open game-tying attempt in the final seconds.
“We just missed shots. Everybody has those nights when the shots just don’t fall,” Mitchell said. “I think the biggest thing is to be able to continue to keep going. We’re going to have games like this.”
It’s important, the well-spoken rookie added, how the Jazz respond.
If they bounce back like they did the last time they lost to the Hawks — winning 11 in a row and 21 of 23 — they will have a long run in the playoffs.
“Every game is a fight. Every game is a challenge,” Jazz center Rudy Gobert said. “If we want to get more time (in the playoffs), we try to win every game.”
The Jazz (40-31) dropped from the No. 5 spot to No. 8 in the wildly close Western Conference playoff chase with the setback. They’re still only two games out of the coveted fourth seed, currently held by Oklahoma City (43-30), and they’ll get a shot to overtake the Spurs (41-30) on this road trip.
With Denver (38-33) and the Los Angeles Clippers (37-33) still within reach of knocking them out, the Jazz simply can’t afford to have many more head-scratching losses or offensive performances.
Knowing what’s at stake, Gobert said the team has a good mindset heading into this road swing.
“It’s kind of like a mission. We can have the mindset that we’re on a mission,” Gobert said. “Every game is going to be tough in its own way.”
Utah has had good showings against all three of their next opponents, having won all four meetings against Dallas (2-0) and San Antonio (2-0) while earning a split (1-1) against the Warriors. A win Thursday night would give the Jazz their first sweep of Dallas since the 1998-99 season.