1. Kevin Love dominated tonight without much effort.
Of course, the story of the game in a Minnesota blowout is Kevin Love’s first triple-double of his career, a remarkable 37 point, 12 rebound, 10 assist performance (in just 32 minutes!). Love was fantastic, obviously, but the Jazz didn’t make it very hard on him:
Love didn’t really play defense, allowing his matchup Enes Kanter to go for 25 points on 11-14 shooting. It’s a testament to Love’s skill that he’s able to have this sort of game while putting in that much effort, but it’s disappointing for a Jazz team that really should have put up a better fight, even on the second game of a back to back.
His assists were the best part of tonight’s game, a really fun watch for a basketball fan from someone playing the Center position for his team. In particular, the outlet passes were incredible. Love’s outlet passing belongs in the pantheon of unique current NBA skills, along with Kyrie Irving’s ballhandling, Steph Curry’s shot release, and Dwyane Wade’s shotblocking. 1
After the game, Love commented “My parents never let me play football, so that’s my way of being quarterback out there.” Just for Love, I watched all of his assists tonight, and marked how long the passes were. His QB stat line? 10-10, 285 feet (or 95 yards), and one fumble lost. 2 Pretty good for a basketball player.
2. Jazz go to 0-9 without Derrick Favors
The Jazz continue to struggle without Derrick Favors, going 0-9 in games when he’s out with a hip injury that’s been variably described as a “sore lower back”, a “right hip abductor strain”, “right hip inflammation”, or most recently a “right hip sprain”. It’s not clear how Derrick got the injury or injuries. 3
It’s clear, though, that something changes without Favors in the lineup, especially defensively. Part of it is Enes Kanter’s still developing defensive game. Before the game, Jazz coach Ty Corbin mentioned how Enes Kanter is doing a better job defensively in getting to his spots as the play developed, but still struggled in impacting the play once he was in position, either in help defense or while guarding the post.
But the team is also just missing Favors’ ability to make up for his teammates’ mistakes. As Marvin Williams put it, “He’s an anchor. He’s a great one-on-one defender, he’s also a great help-side defender. Derrick has always been there to save the day. But obviously, when he’s not back there, it’s been difficult.” Without Favors, the Jazz’s perimeter players end up giving up a lot of paint buckets for guards and wing players, perhaps most notably Lillard and Matthews respective 28 and 24 point performances last night in Portland.
3. This game might be an example of a contextual narrative going too far.
Two weeks ago, I asked Ty Corbin about the impact on the All-Star break on his players. Corbin responded that, naturally, giving 100% effort was difficult after playing 50 games in such a short period of time, that the players were tired. After the All-Star break, he said that the players should look much more energized after getting some time off, presumably meaning better performances and smarter play from the team.
Last week, before the trade deadline, I asked Ty Corbin about the impact of the trade deadline on his players. Corbin responded that, naturally, focus was difficult when the possibility of you and your family having to immediately move exists. After the trade deadline, he said that the players should be able to re-focus on their jobs, presumably meaning better performances and smarter play from the team.
Instead, the Jazz now are on a 3 game losing streak after having won three in a row going into the above important dates. The team did fight against the Nets and Trailblazers, though came up short. But tonight against the Timberwolves, the team looked both slow and dull-witted. As Corbin put it, “We talked about some things before the game, taking away the things they’re really good at, transition baskets and scoring in the paint. They got both tonight.” This is now the third time this season that the Jazz have lost by big margins to the Timberwolves because of those two factors. Are these mistakes that a relatively well-rested and focused team should be making?
I’m probably reading too much out of the second game of a back-to-back. But I think that this game shows some of the problems with making too much of a narrative out of the landmarks in the NBA calendar: sometimes the problem isn’t to be placed off the court, but on it. The problem could be matchups, scheme, effort level, or personnel, but we now have 3 really clear points of evidence that something isn’t remotely up to par when the Jazz play the Timberwolves, at least. It may be time to start looking to saviors other than the calendar.