I know this because I occasionally feel joy in the regular season, where the stakes are lower and every missed assignment doesn’t feel cataclysmic. Just last season I enjoyed watching the Jazz play basketball! They had the best record in the NBA! I swear this happened! This year was decidedly less enjoyable, especially as the Jazz were trudging to a 23-24 record in their final 47 games, but I still felt slight spikes of emotion when Donovan Mitchell would tomahawk on some unsuspecting defender or Rudy Gobert would snuff out some peon at the rim.
In the playoffs I do not feel joy. Maybe while watching other teams—the Celtics swarming defense, Chris Paul playing Point God against the Pelicans, Kyrie scoring from every corner of planet earth—but not while watching the Jazz. I started questioning my sanity three seasons ago when Jamal Murray treated Utah’s defense with cold, casual rudeness and sent them on their way. I thought things might be different last season until Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris, and Terance Mann (!!!) turnstiled every Jazz defender on the perimeter, forcing Gobert to try and cover the key AND the corner three. I assumed Game 6 against the Clippers would be the low point of this iteration of the Jazz, then Game 2 against the Mavericks reminded me we all exist in a closed loop of fandom, doomed to relive a team’s failings for eternity.
If Jalen Brunson and Maxi Kleber blowtorch your entire defensive structure, it might be time to reevaluate your priorities. The Jazz spent last offseason thinking about playoff losses to the Nuggets and Clippers—and specifically the defensive shortcomings in those series—and decided to do virtually nothing to improve their perimeter defense. And so here we sit, in a depressingly familiar situation: Rudy Gobert the focal point of a mathematical equation (2>1) that he cannot win, the rest of the Jazz defense staring into the stadium rafters. It’s almost worse if the Jazz survive the Luka-less Mavericks because I shudder to think of all the ways Paul and Booker would eviscerate this Utah defense. If it occurs, Suns-Jazz should be stamped with an NC-17 rating and children should be barred from participating. A top-10 defensive net rating for Utah in the regular season is cracking, yet again, under an unalienable truth: what works in the regular season and what works in the playoffs are not necessarily the same thing.