The Utah Jazz started the season with eight straight losses. They struggled all the way through November and then with the return of rookie Trey Burke, they started playing .500 basketball. Before a third consecutive loss on Monday night to the Raptors, the Jazz hadn’t hit a three game skid since early December.
That ended up being a four game losing streak, something the Jazz hope to avoid tonight in Dallas. Just as the schedule is stiffening for the Jazz, Utah is less prepared to face top-end competition.
Everyone in the locker room recognizes that the three game streak they’re riding might have been avoided with Jeremy Evans and Derrick Favors in the lineup. After the loss to Toronto, Alec Burks acknowledged that it’s a whole different ball game with those two on the court.
The starting bigs for the opposing teams in the last two losses have combined for 29 and 35 points. Marvin Williams doesn’t expect any of his teammates to settle just because a key player like Favors has been out with a hip flexor injury.
“We’re a little shorthanded but that doesn’t matter, whoever suits up out there has to give their best effort,” Williams said.
“We have to continue to stay positive. We can’t get down on ourselves and we just have to continue to move forward and get better.”
Injuries aren’t the only reason Utah has struggled lately. In the last three games Trey Burke and Gordon Hayward have combined to shoot 23.9 percent. They’ve put up 71 field goal attempts during the stretch and garnered a total of 49 points.
It’s natural to point to Burke’s status as a rookie and say that he’s hitting a wall, most rookies that play as many minutes as he has slow down at some point. He’s not content to chalk it up to that though, saying he needs to continue taking care of his body and adjusting.
Potentially adding to frustration for the rising star is the fact that he feels like his shot is in good shape, even if it’s not dropping.
“Shot looks good to be honest with you, I think it has something to do with my legs,” Burke said. “Everybody has to use their legs more to get more lift on their shot.”
Until the shots start dropping again, which Williams said will only happen as Burke and Hayward keep shooting, they can impact the game in other ways. Both Burke and head coach Tyrone Corbin said as much after the game.
“That’s what we have. That’s how they learn. We’ll see how they respond to it,” Corbin said. “We have to find a way to get it done. They’re going through a lot and learning their roles but the game’s not going to wait for you.”
For Burke, he’s a in tough situation. He’s hit the point in his rookie season where opposing coaches have plenty of film on him and they can create game plans to specifically slow him down. Adding to the problem is the fact that with Favors out he’s played a lot more time on the court with Rudy Gobert.
Gobert has definitely overachieved in his rookie season, but his offensive game is still way behind to say the least. Against the Raptors, when Gobert played 31 minutes, Burke had very little inside presence to help get the offense going. Even on pick and rolls the Raptors were willing to stay out on Burke because of Gobert’s inability to finish.
One thing that is certain, if that Jazz hope to get many wins in the coming weeks, they’ll need Favors back in the lineup. Utah is 0-6 in games he hasn’t played this year. For now, Utah is a young team with a lot of potential but they’re just not far enough along to overcome losing the teams defensive anchor. The team still hasn’t said if Favors will be back for the Mavericks game on Friday or the Heat on Saturday, but if they do hold him out much longer then that he should be ready to return following All-Star weekend.
I’ll leave you with the optimistic words of Marvin Williams.
“We’re getting better. We have dropped a couple in a row now but no one is panicking,” WIlliams said. “We’ve played some really good teams and we understand that. Once we get our full team back we’ll be right back to winning.”