This was supposed to be the season the Utah Jazz took the next step to becoming a playoff team.
The Jazz was one of the best teams after the All-Star break last season. It won 65.5 percent of its games after the break, and its 38-44 record represented a 13-game improvement from the 2013-14 season.
The Jazz established its defensive identity, leading the NBA in points allowed (89 per game) and second in field-goal percentage allowed (.422). The offense, which struggled, was expected to get better as point guard Dante Exum matured in his second season.
Things haven’t gone exactly as the Jazz would have hoped. Exum tore his left ACL in August while playing in an exhibition game for the Australian national team.
Rudy Gobert, the emerging center who anchored Utah’s defense and figured to be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, has played in only 14 games this season because of injuries and currently is out with a knee injury.
Still, the Jazz have not folded completely. Though it has lost seven of its last 10 entering Saturday, the Jazz is 11-14 and in the eighth spot in the Western Conference that has an abundance of teams below .500 this season.
Utah has not altered its philosophy in a league where seemingly every team wants as many possessions as possible. And it’s been coach Quin Snyder’s job to keep the focus on playing good defense.
“Really, I think the hard thing is our personality continues to evolve,” Snyder said. “When your personnel changes, that sometimes dictates it. ... You’re trying to figure out how to win, and at the same time you don’t want compromise the big picture, which, for us, is defense.”
Utah allows 97.3 points per game, which ranks fifth in the NBA. Opponents are shooting 45 percent against the Jazz, 17th in the league.
As the Jazz struggles to find consistency, Snyder has to remind himself the team is rebuilding. Even at full strength, making the playoffs was no sure thing, and there were going to be times when Utah’s youth showed.
“I don’t mean to beat it into the ground, but we’re the second-youngest team in the NBA,” Snyder said. “When we’re up and down at times, you have to take a bigger and broader perspective and look at a longer timeline in certain situations.”
Having shooting guard Alec Burks healthy helps. He was limited to 27 games last season because of injuries but is averaging a career-high 14.6 points this season as Utah’s top reserve.
Power forward Derrick Favors is on pace for a career year in scoring, and small forward Gordon Hayward remains the leading scorer.
Gobert will eventually be back.
So, for Utah, it’s all about perspective.
“You have to continue to hold guys accountable and at the same time focus on the long term and just keep for yourself, and for me, to stay really locked in on the process, because that’s going to be reflected in our players,” Snyder said. “If we are too reactionary to a given win or a given loss, I don’t think that’s the way for our team to get better.”
The Orlando Magic has won nine of their last 12, and Nikola Vucevic is a big reason why.
The fifth-year center is averaging 17.2 points and 9.2 rebounds per game over his last 10 games and is shooting better than 50 percent during that stretch. Those figures are all better than his season averages.
If Orlando has an All-Star this year, it very well could be Vucevic.
Yes, the Milwaukee Bucks ended the Golden State Warriors’ winning streak to start the season at 24 games.
But the Bucks haven’t won since, dropping three in a row, including a 113-95 loss Wednesday at the Los Angeles Lakers and a 121-112 loss Friday night at Golden State.
Milwaukee went from 15 wins in 2013-14 to a playoff team last season. At this rate, the Bucks will be back in the lottery if they don’t find consistency.
“No man is going to touch my head.”
Warriors forward Draymond Green addressing his issue with Milwaukee’s O.J. Mayo after Golden State rallied to avoid losing to the Bucks for the second time in a week. The two had words after the game, and Mayo patted Green on the back of the head.