COMMENTARY | Look up "crunch time" in the dictionary and you may see the following:
crunch time [kruhnch tahym] noun 1. the critical period near the end of a game in which the Utah Jazz disappear
Of course, the guys in navy and gold haven't always struggled when the game is on the line -- they did win this nail-bitter, for example -- but since Feb. 25, they're 1-6 in contests that were within five points in the final five minutes.
Check it out:
Feb. 25 -- Celtics 110, Jazz 107 (OT)
March 4 -- Bucks 109, Jazz 108 (OT)
March 6 -- Cavs 104, Jazz 101
March 8 -- Bulls 89, Jazz 88
March 16 -- Jazz 90, Grizzlies 84
March 18 -- Knicks 90, Jazz 83
March 20 -- Rockets 100, Jazz 93
Consequently, Coach Corbin & Co. are sitting on the outside looking in as the Western Conference playoff picture continues to take shape.
But they're not stuck there. With 15 games left on the schedule -- and their neighbors to the south doing their best to help them out -- the Jazz could still make a move.
If they address three crunch-time issues:
While in the clutch during the aforementioned games, the Jazz have struggled mightily to put points on the board, shooting an unsatisfactory 22 of 57 (38.6 percent) from the field, including 2 of 10 from deep. They were especially bad against the Knickerbockers -- who were without Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudamire and Tyson Chandler -- on March 18. That's when the Jazz missed nine shots in the final three minutes: Al Jefferson misfired on four attempts, Mo Williams on three and Paul Millsap on two.
The Jazz have even had problems at the charity stripe, where they've connected on just 12 of 20 attempts. For instance, during the Milwaukee game on March 4, Paul Millsap missed a free throw with 15 seconds left in regulation that could have given his team a four-point lead. Then, in overtime, DeMarre Carroll missed a freebie with 34 seconds remaining that would have tied the score.
The Jazz usually handle the ball well (they average just 14.4 turnovers per game), but late in contests, when the clock nears zero, there's been way too many of these (I'm referring to what happens at the 1:30 mark) -- sloppy possessions in which the Jazz fail to slow it down, shave some time off the clock and set up for a good look. As a matter of fact, in their last 34 crunch-time minutes, the Jazz have picked up almost as many turnovers (9) as they have assists (10).
3. Perimeter defense
Aside from some Derrick Favors blocks, the Jazz haven't had too much success on the defensive end of the floor this season. Especially at the end of games. Especially on the perimeter. This was particularly evident on March 4, 6 and 10, when the Jazz's backcourt continually lost track of J.J. Redick, who knocked down three 3s in the final 10 minutes; failed to contain Kyrie Irving, who scored eight points in the final three minutes; and got burned by James Harden and Jeremy Lin, who combined for 11 points in the final five minutes.
Jared Bray, a graduate of Brigham Young University's broadcast journalism program, has followed the Utah Jazz since 2008, when he covered the team as a sports correspondent for KBYU-TV's Daily News at Noon.