Last week was a turning point that will define the Utah Jazz season. The record will show three losses, all against teams from the state of Texas. At times, it got really ugly.
In Houston, the Jazz trailed by 19 at halftime before falling by seven.
Head coach Ty Corbin reportedly got after his team before they headed to San Antonio. They put up a spirited effort, but fell in overtime when their shots stopped falling.
Dallas shot 54 percent against a porous Jazz defense, and went on a 20-2 run in the fourth quarter to pull away. The Jazz bench made a spirited run at the end, but fell five points short at the final buzzer.
Amid all of this, the Jazz lost out on golden opportunities to catch the Lakers in the standings. The Lakers, who at one point in January were six games behind the Jazz, stretched their lead to two games, and should have added more. The Jazz failed to capitalize on the Lakers’ losses to Phoenix and Washington.
If there ever were a time for the Jazz to hang their heads, this would be the time.
But what made this such a pivotal moment in the Jazz season is, that there is a different attitude than earlier in the season. It is not something that can be quantified using advanced statistics, but the eye test says the Jazz are playing more like a team than they have played in more than a month.
There are two ways a Jazz fan can look at it, a glass-half-empty view or the glass-half-full perspective. The glass-half-empty fan will ask, what took so long? Why is it now, that player’s backs are against the walls, do they finally start competing? The glass-half-full fan says the team is finally playing the way it planned, and now is a good time to get hot heading into the playoff push.
There is truth in both views. In all honesty, the fans are not the only ones who should be asking what took so long for the Jazz to play with the heart needed to win in the NBA.
I am sure the players and coaches asked themselves the same question, and there is no easy answer. We can debate why they played passionless for the last few weeks, but going forward they have to compete harder to make the playoffs.
The team put together at the beginning of the season is starting to gel in the way it hoped all along. Mo Williams’ missing more than 30 games slowed the team’s chemistry, and now that he has returned, the team is playing like the front office imagined. There are some Jazz fans that will not admit it, but Williams’ play is key if Utah is to make the playoffs.
His passion and energy are part of the change over the last few games. The way he aggressively brings the ball into the frontcourt on each possession, forcing the opponent to set up defense quickly, is a contrast to our other guards. It creates an urgency with the rest of the team; if they want the ball, they need to keep up.
The young core thrives with Williams. Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors are both playing better than they have all season, feeding off of the increased pace while they are on the court.
Alec Burks, as Williams’ backup and his backcourt partner when both are on the floor, is more confident than ever, and with the increased minutes is proving his worth in the NBA.
Gordon Hayward, after moving into the starting lineup, proved he can produce with any player on the team, and has more aggressively looked for his own shot.
Their change in attitude was displayed Monday night in the home against Philadelphia. They stepped on the 76ers’ throats early, building a quick double-digit lead. They never lost the lead, and finished with a 16-point blowout.
The Jazz’s eleven games began last night when they hosted Phoenix. They play seven of the last 11 at Energy Solutions Arena, and that will give them an advantage.
The Lakers, which play only five of their last 11 at home. The Jazz face only five teams above .500, while the Lakers face six.
But just because the Jazz have an advantage here does not mean they can take the games lightly. We have seen what will happen if they do.
The key will be for the Jazz to build on the energy they found while on the road in Texas, and use that momentum to make the playoffs for the second consecutive season.