For the first month of the season, the Utah Jazz were the surprise of the NBA, and even a stretch of eight losses in 10 games did little to diminish the spark with which they played.
But now Utah is in the midst of a five-game losing skid, with a cumulative margin of defeat of just 15 points. The Jazz took their second one-possession loss to the Sacramento Kings in five days on Tuesday, falling 117-115 when De’Aaron Fox converted a driving layup inside the final second.
The Jazz will open a three-game road trip on Thursday against the Houston Rockets, seeking to reclaim the positivity that characterized the opening weeks of their season.
“The margin between winning and losing in this league is very, very thin, as we’re seeing,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said on Tuesday after Utah forward Lauri Markkanen had his game-tying jumper at the buzzer negated following a replay review.
“It hurts right now and it should — losing sucks. If losing doesn’t hurt, you shouldn’t be here. I expect for our team, our coaching staff to hurt.”
Before Utah surrendered a game-winning 3-pointer in the waning moments to Kings guard Kevin Huerter to conclude a three-game road trip on Dec. 30, the Jazz lost 126-122 in San Antonio and 112-107 at Golden State. Miami followed with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Tyler Herro to squeeze out a 126-123 victory over Utah between the Huerter and Fox game-winners.
A succession of such disappointing losses could shake most any team, particularly one struggling to get back on track after opening the season with such promise. But credit the Jazz for recognizing that the close calls are an indication of progress.
“We know we are close, so that’s a good thing,” Markkanen said. “Just fix a couple things and we are right there. Of course, it hurts to lose, especially like that. But I think we just got to look at ourselves in the mirror and use these moments to learn how to win.
“They’ll turn at some point.”
Like the Jazz, the Rockets are slumping, too, but in a different fashion.
Houston has dropped 10 of 11 games with an average margin of defeat of 12.1 points. In a 119-108 road loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday, the Rockets trailed wire to wire and fell into a 31-point hole in the second quarter after surrendering 45 points in the first period.
The Rockets, behind their reserves, closed within seven points late, but it was a futile rally.
“We’ve got to have that fight from the beginning of the game,” said Rockets coach Stephen Silas, who was ejected after receiving two technical fouls in the first quarter.
“Like I continue to say, the great thing about the NBA is we have an opportunity (Thursday) to right our wrongs, but it’s got to be right from the start. We can not start games like this, we just can’t. Regardless of our age and all this other stuff, like, no, we can’t.”
–Field Level Media