After too many false starts and broken promises, C.J. Miles’ two-week run as the Jazz’s best and most consistent wing player has come down to two words.
They represent freedom and personal fulfillment. They capture everything Utah coach Tyrone Corbin has asked of a captain-less team still searching for an identity. And they meld the tough, fiery nature that’s made the Jazz one of the NBA’s early-season surprises with the on-the-court passion Miles has long tempted fans with but seldom delivered in full.
The words also can’t be printed without being slightly edited.
But Miles embraced them late Saturday inside Utah’s locker room, following a 96-93 home win against Sacramento. He jumped off the bench to score 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting, attacking the basket while refusing to settle for long-range jump shots. A slasher instead of a perimeter bystander, Miles scored his first 18 points in just 18 minutes, teaming with fellow wing Gordon Hayward to propel the Jazz to a 13-point fourth-quarter lead.
Asked if the switch in his head had finally clicked and he now understood how dangerous he could be if he played the game at full speed, Miles smiled and laughed before crediting a simple two-word refrain for the key to his sudden turnaround.
“[Screw] it,” Miles said. “Excuse my language, but [screw] it.”
Corbin’s postgame praise was equally concise. And it said everything about a player who’s at last delivering on the promise Utah saw in 2005, when it selected Miles with the 34th overall pick in the NBA draft.
“C.J. was great,” Corbin said.
Since Deron Williams returned to Salt Lake City on Feb. 14 and Miles put up 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting against New Jersey, the seventh-year small forward has recorded at least 11 points in six of eight games. He’s averaging 14.3 during the stretch while shooting 46.9 percent from the field, pouring his heart into every minute Corbin provides.
“That’s another reason I don’t have no reason not to play hard,” Miles said. “If I know I’m only going to be out there for 18 minutes, I can spin it. That’s why I don’t ever stop running. That’s what I tell Earl [Watson]: ‘I’m running.’ ”
Miles and Hayward aren’t the only Jazz wingmen who play better when they think less.
Rookie guard Alec Burks drilled two 3s against the Kings, showing off a quick release and smooth stroke that should silence any remaining critics who questioned whether the No. 12 overall pick in 2011 could shoot well enough to make a living in the NBA.
Burks has recently put in extra work with Utah assistant coach Jeff Hornacek, who’s also teamed with Hayward and knocked down 828 3s during his 14-year playing career.
After looking wide-eyed during his initial run in the league, Burks has begun to understand that the best professional shooters often have one thing in common: they don’t have a conscience.
“I’m just going to shoot it with confidence,” Burks said. “If you don’t shoot it with confidence, you ain’t going to make it.”
The Jazz entered Sunday tied for the league lead in home games (12) and will play three more this week. Utah’s schedule will finally toughen Monday, though, and the Jazz are about to enter a two-month test that could define their season.
Utah will face Western Conference playoff contenders Portland, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Lakers at EnergySolutions Arena this week, with a road contest at Golden State tucked in between.
Starting with the Warriors on Thursday and ending April 2 in Portland, the Jazz will play 22 of 34 games away from SLC as the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season officially kicks in.
The quality of Utah’s opponents will also increase, with teams including Miami, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Boston and Atlanta waiting on the horizon.