What happened in New Orleans? The Utah Jazz didn’t play hard enough. Period.

New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum (3) steals the ball from Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024.

NEW ORLEANS — Sometimes the other team is going to shoot better. That’s going to happen. The NBA is, after all, a make-or-miss league. It’s understandable to get beaten by a team that shoots 50% from 3-point land.

But that doesn’t really capture why the Utah Jazz were blown out by the New Orleans Pelicans 153-124 on Tuesday night.

The real reason? The Jazz just didn’t play hard enough.

A good way to keep a team from shooting 50% from 3 is to not let it get easy, open looks early on and get into a rhythm. Defense is about effort. But let’s get away from the arc.

The Jazz’s execution wasn’t perfect on Tuesday night, but it’s not like they were sloppy with the ball. They only committed eight turnovers for the entire game. That’s really good.

What’s not good is that the Pelicans still managed to score 35 fast break points. Since they scored just nine points off the Jazz’s turnovers, that means that 26 transition points came off dead balls and makes.

There’s no way around it. Not getting back on defense is purely about effort.

“The reality of tonight’s game and the reality of the last three games ... is we’re just not playing hard enough,” Jazz head coach Will Hardy said.

“They had 65 points between second chance and transition, and to give up 35 points in transition on a night where we only had eight turnovers is not very good.”

Everybody knows Hardy’s mantra — play hard and pass. Throw everything else out the window and Hardy would still be happy if he felt like the Jazz were at least playing hard and sharing the ball.


That makes the last three games — losses to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets and Pelicans — a bit harder to live with considering they’ve been getting beaten in the open floor, on rebounds and because of a lack of effort when they need it most.

Hardy is not unrealistic in his expectations. He knows that January is rough and can feel like a slog in the NBA. The midway point of the 82-game grind sets in and starts to wear on bodies and minds.

That being said, the Jazz are not the only team dealing with this. There are 29 other teams playing through the same schedule, and they certainly don’t care if the Jazz are tired.

But it’s not even the physicality of the schedule that mounts in the NBA. It’s the mental fatigue that is most dangerous.

“The initial part of the season has passed, everybody’s a little bit banged up, rumors start to swirl in the media about what’s going to happen with the team and the trade deadline and everything, everyone’s names are being thrown around,” Hardy said.

“Your mind can drift this time of year. I’m always going to try to be very aware of the fact that these guys are human beings and those things are natural.”

Natural or not, there has to be an answer. After all, the best players in the league are able to put aside how they’re feeling, physically and mentally, from tipoff to final buzzer, in order to impact winning for their team.

“There’s plenty of days where I would prefer to rest,” Hardy said, “but that’s not what this job is. This is an everyday business.

“We’ve got to find a way to crank up the gas. Sometimes you’ve got to create an alter ego. You’ve got to just figure out a way to become a crazy person with your hair on fire for two and a half hours, and then you can go back to being tired.”

That’s not something that Hardy is worried about the Jazz lacking. He truly believes his team will find another gear, as it was able to over the last few weeks. But the team does need a bit of a reality check and to own the fact that it isn’t playing up to its potential right now.