In Salt Lake City on Friday, the Jazz played like a team incapable of losing. This game was different. In this one, the Clippers played like a team incapable of winning.
The box score certainly doesn't tell the story of how this game felt.
20 turnovers for the Clippers (and 19 for Utah) is bad - but it seemed worse than that. There are two reasons for that - one is that so many of those turnovers occurred in the first half, and so many of them were unforced. Moreover, they resulted in 30 points for the Jazz (while Utah's 19 turnovers resulted in 16 LA points).
Allowing Utah to shoot 57% is really bad. And as opposed to Friday when the Jazz simply made everything, including all their jump shots regardless of the defense, in this game they were mere mortals. But even mortals can make layups. They also made 5 threes, so their effective FG% was actually over 60%. That's ridiculous.
But beyond those numbers, the box score doesn't look that ugly. It looks like Kaman and Maggette had good games, while Mobley and Thornton and Cassell all contributed.
So why was it one of the ugliest losses of the season?
The defense was lethargic. Throughout the game defenders were simply losing track of their assignments, or over committing in help situations. Paul Millsap put up stellar numbers (17 points on 7 for 10 shooting) essentially by staying near the rim and catching passes from Deron Williams (who had 13 assists, most of them for layups and dunks).
The offense was sloppy. They committed 11 turnovers in 53 minutes versus New Jersey. They committed 11 in the first 16 minutes of this game. There's no way the Generic Clippers can overcome that.
The energy was lacking. Both teams had chronic issues holding onto the ball. But even so, every loose ball that could go either way ended up with the Jazz. Utah out-hustled and out-muscled the Clippers throughout, which went a long way toward making up for their own ballhandling troubles.
What's most frustrating is that the Clippers weren't losing to All Stars Carlos Boozer and Mehmut Okur and former All Star Andrei Kirilenko - they were losing to Ronnie Brewer and Matt Harpring and Millsap and Kyle Korver. Kirilenko barely played and didn't score. Boozer was 5 for 14 for 12 points and Okur had 13 points and 3 rebounds. Meanwhile Brewer, Harpring, Millsap and Korver combined for 62 points on 26 for 36 from the field. That's 72% from the field, because no one but Korver shot anything other than a layup.
Despite all of their issues, the Clippers had a chance to make this a game in the third quarter. They cut the lead to 4 at 66-62 and had two straight possessions to try to get even closer. But they missed consecutive threes (why are they taking consecutive threes?) and Utah went on an 11-2 run and the lead was 9 or greater the rest of the way.
I think this team will win consecutive games again at some point this season. In fact, save for the two Utah games, they've played so well in the last couple weeks that it seems almost certain. But 33 games without back-to-back wins is a long time. It's pretty hard to feel very confident when you can't string two victories together.
After Sacramento on Wednesday, the Clippers play 9 of their next 11 on the road. Not that Staples (where they are now 7-14) has been that great for them. But I'm sure they'd rather be at home.
One final aside: did you notice the graphic that KTLA used to show the differences for Utah between home performance and road performance? Notice anything strange about it? It showed them scoring 103.1 points on the road versus 107.1 at home, and allowing exactly 100.3 both away and at home. Well, although it might be mathematically possible, it seems highly improbable that a team could be 6-15 while being +2.8 in point differential in those 21 games. It also seemed at least more than a little coincidental that they would have the exact same points allowed number (to the nearest tenth!) in 21 away games as in 20 home games.
The answer of course is that the graphic was wrong. The points allowed number was for all their games, regardless of the home/away split. They had actually allowed a whopping 106 points per road game versus a little over 94 at home prior to today (leave it to the Clippers to reverse any team's worst trends). The point of the graphic, to illustrate their home/road dichotomy, was completely lost. Utah has won at home and lost on the road because they play decent defense in Utah and horrendous defense away, yet the graphic implied that the defense was identical and somehow the offense was to blame. Of course I knew that the Lakers had hung 119 and 123 on them in Staples. But anyone with an ounce of common sense looking at that graphic would know that it was wrong.