The Jazz are a fun team to watch.
There’s nothing particularly analytical about that observation, but it is nonetheless notable and nearly profound, given where the Jazz were a month ago, when watching them was about as fun as having your toes sliced off with a banana knife.
In February, the Jazz lost 11 of 15 games, including one skid during which they dropped five of six, and another when they lost six of seven. Remember when Golden State beat them by 18 points? And they were embarrassed by the Hornets? And Oklahoma City toyed with them?
Things have changed.
The slicing has stopped.
The Jazz have found it within themselves to transform their sorry plight into the joyful romp of a get-up to be taken seriously — by every opponent. Ask the Lakers, who recently succumbed to the Jazz at Staples Center, only their third home loss against 19 wins, and the Thunder, who were thumped at ESA. The Jazz have now won seven of eight, with 16 games yet to play. They’ve gone from a team well beneath the playoff Mendoza Line to an outfit that can finish somewhere in the middle of the Western Conference playoff pack.
They deserve a lot of credit, not only for that, but for another accomplishment: They’ve established themselves as an extremely dangerous thing — a team that can win against all kinds of opposition, home and away.
A month ago, they couldn’t win on the road, and, if they were playing against a quality team that wasn’t either missing its star player or playing back to back to back, you could have written in a defeat beforehand with a ballpoint.
Like Al Jefferson said after Monday night’s road win over the Nets, a win that started like a dream and could have ended in a nightmare — New Jersey having reduced a 21-point deficit to three before the Jazz rebuilt their margin on a late 18-4 run — the Jazz are now something else.
“The old Jazz would have put their heads down and let them get away with the game,” he said. “This will show you how well we are playing now, to bounce back from [Sunday] night, and when they made their run and cut it to three, we still stayed on what we were doing and took over the game. That shows you how much we have grown as a team.”
He’s right. And everybody involved with the Jazz deserves praise for the new surprise. Even when they lost that quadraphonic quadruple-overtime game to the Hawks less than 24 hours prior to the win over New Jersey, one of the primary elements that makes the Jazz fun to watch, their heart, was plain to see.
For Ty Corbin’s shortcomings, and there are some, including his ongoing hesitancy to consistently give the younger players enough time on the court, which was evident during OT at Atlanta when the Jazz vets got gassed while the youngsters sat on the bench (I digress), he has discovered a way to motivate this team. And, with a nod to the players’ professionalism, the team has responded.
The care factor is high.
With the concurrent NCAA Tournament, it’s often heard that the problem with the NBA game, compared to the college, is that the pros only care about their paychecks. Well, the Jazz are showing more care than just that.
In the words of Jamaal Tinsley: “We want to win. That’s what we care about.”
And that’s a cool thing.
A fun thing to watch.
The Jazz are far from perfect. They still don’t shoot it well from distance, and too often the wrong guy ends up taking important shots in close games.
They do share the ball, as was seen against the Nets when the Jazz collected 29 assists and hit 51 percent of their field goals. They’re improving on defense, but they still foul too much, trailing their opponents in free throws attempted and made on a nightly basis. That’s not because the refs have it in for the Jazz, it’s because … the Jazz foul too much.
But they’re deep, and in a compacted season, that’s huge. On account of the youngsters and veterans meshing together, the Jazz are now a good bet to make the playoffs, currently tied for seventh in the West.
They have three games left against teams with clearly better records (San Antonio, twice, and Orlando), seven games against teams with similar records (Boston, Clippers, Phoenix, twice, Houston, Memphis and Dallas), and six games against teams with sub-par records (Sacramento, Portland, thrice, Golden State and New Orleans).
It could be, it might be, that the fun around here is just beginning.
Gordon Monson hosts “The Gordon Monson Show” weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone.