Jamaal Tinsley was asked when the last time was he felt this good playing in the NBA.
He paused, considered the question and smiled.
Two years? Three?
He didn't know exactly. But it's definitely been a long time.
"Mmm. It's been a while," Tinsley said. "It's been a while."
What's made the difference for the Jazz?
"We've got no hidden agenda and everybody pulling for each other and a bunch of good guys. It's good to see us come together at this time in the crucial [part] of the season and knowing that we need every game," Tinsley said. "We don't want to go out and have to wait for other teams to lose games and dictate. We want to go out there and take it when we can take it."
The Jazz took it Friday, blowing out the Denver Nuggets 121-102 and moving into a three-way tie for seventh place in the Western Conference, just a half game behind three teams tied for fourth.
A couple of Utah's assistant coaches congregated postgame in an EnergySolutions Arena hallway, trading laughs and enjoying a scene that looked like an upbeat, relaxed high school or college setting. Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin walked by, carrying boxes and greeting friends like it was the first day of school.
Utah's as confident and strong as it's been all season, but also looser and more free than ever before. The Jazz are maximizing almost every bit of their potential, and Utah's again become one of the best stories in the NBA.
Al Jefferson on Devin Harris' thunder slam: "That was his first dunk in eight years. I hope he didn't hurt himself."
The Jazz were so smooth Paul Millsap secretly pulled out a suit and tie postgame, showing off a look rarely seen, while outdressing his teammates.
Harris on his super slam: I'm surprised, too. It doesn't happen very often.
Harris said Utah's "leaps and bounds" above where it was just a few weeks ago, with everything from trust to communication showing major improvement.
His improvement since training camp: Yeah, I've come a little ways. [Laughs] It took me a little while to find it. I was always confident I would find it. Once I get it, there's nothing I can't do. … Early in the season I was just really trying to fit in. Now I'm back to doing what I do.
Improved relationship with Corbin: The communication's better. We're starting to utilize things that we see on the floor and we're kind of on the same page.
Jefferson on what's changed for the Jazz: We've been saying all year it's defense and I guess it's finally clicked in our head. We have proved to ourselves that we can play against the best of the best and when you're doing that everything's going to work out.
Best Utah's been all season: … It feels good. But I was telling some of my friends yesterday, we don't have time to celebrate. We've got some big games coming up and we've got to win them. When we can finally take a deep breath and say [we did it] — that's going to be at the end, hopefully — then we can rest in the playoffs.
How much he enjoys his teammates: Aw, man. We've got a great group of guys, and I thank God for that, man. From the coaching staff to the GM to the trainers to the ballboys to the teammates, everybody's just great guys and they like each other. You can't ask for nothing more than that, man. Guys who don't really mind being around each other. When you've got a group of guys like that, it's hard to not be able to focus on what you need to focus on. That's why I think … once things start going down, we stay together instead of turning against each other.
Earl Watson acknowledged he had a friendly in-game chat with Corbin, reminding Utah's coach how badly he wanted to return to action. Watson got his wish in the fourth, recording three assists in just 2:24 and teaming up big time with Jeremy Evans.
Tinsley said the Jazz have the potential be a dangerous team if they qualify for the playoffs.
With 18 games to go, it's suddenly Utah's race to lose.
Brian T. Smith