SALT LAKE CITY -- An identity crisis has gripped the Utah Jazz only a few games into the season.
The Jazz are mired in a four-game losing streak headed into Wednesday's clash with the Dallas Mavericks. Utah is struggling to get stops and has not shown the form that made it one of the NBA's best defensive teams a year ago. As a result, the Jazz are 0-4 on their home floor for the first time since 1974-75, the team's inaugural season in New Orleans.
Frustrations came to a head in a 124-111 loss to Toronto on Monday. The Raptors shot 57 percent from the floor and led by as many as 26 points before emptying the bench in the fourth quarter. They killed Utah in transition, outscoring the Jazz 22-8 in fast-break points over the second and third quarters.
"The little things that made us so good last year, we haven't really done any of them to this point," forward Joe Ingles said following the game.
It didn't help matters that the Jazz played without injured star Donovan Mitchell for the second time in the last three games. The second-year guard sat out with an ankle sprain he suffered in the fourth quarter against Denver two nights earlier. In the seven games he's been available, Mitchell has averaged 22.4 points and generally absorbs enough defensive pressure to get his teammates more open looks.
Without Mitchell on the floor, the offense didn't have enough scoring punch to cover for a defense that also lacked a punch.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder thinks the effort is there on defense. His concern is that his team isn't playing with enough discipline or communicating enough -- leading to mental errors and defensive breakdowns that are making it easier for games to get away from Utah.
"Our team cares," Snyder said. "We're just not caring about the right things. That lack of focus on what's important -- that hasn't been our identity."
Dallas is the most recent team to fall to the Jazz. The Mavericks suffered a 113-104 loss to Utah on Oct. 28. Rudy Gobert had 23 points, 16 rebounds and three blocked shots to lead the Jazz. His production offset a 27-point outing from Dennis Smith, Jr.
DeAndre Jordan finished with a near triple-double in the first game between the two teams. Jordan tallied 12 points, 19 rebounds and nine assists. But the veteran center also struggled to keep Gobert from making critical plays around the basket on both ends of the court.
That loss formed part of a larger six-game skid that Dallas finally snapped with a 119-100 win over Washington on Tuesday night. Luka Doncic led the way with 23 points.
It wasn't a sure thing that Doncic would play after he sat out of practice on Sunday with a sore right ankle. Having the rookie in the lineup definitely gave the Mavericks a boost. He has emerged as the team's leading scorer at 19.8 points per game. Doncic also second on the team in rebounds (6.5 rpg) and assists (4.4 apg).
Doncic's extensive experience playing in Europe before the Mavericks drafted him in June has served him well in emerging quickly as a key leader and contributor.
"He's played in a lot of high stakes competition both in the EuroLeague and internationally with Slovenia," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle told the team's official website. "Those games with the national team are high pressure games for national pride, and it's a big deal. He's got quite a bit different level of experience when it comes to that, which has helped him here."