Chicago • The hope peeked out almost immediately Wednesday night. On one of the Jazz’s first possessions in an eventual loss in Cleveland, Mo Williams passed ahead to a racing DeMarre Carroll.
The ball was tipped away and the play ended, harmless and forgettable.
But when Mo Williams returned to the Jazz on Wednesday and coach Tyrone Corbin moved Carroll into the starting lineup, he was hoping for plays like that one.
“Although they tipped the pass out of bounds,” Corbin said, “that’s the kind of energy, to try and get some easy baskets to put pressure on the opposite team and get back in transition.”
Starting Friday, the Jazz expect to be at full strength for the final 21 games of the season, with a notable tweak to the lineup since the last time Corbin had all of his options. Al Jefferson likely will play for the first time in more than a week. He’s listed as a game-time decision with a sprained left ankle.
The question now: Is this the group that can get the Jazz to the playoffs?
“We’ve got some things to work on,” Corbin said, “but I liked what we saw.”
Entering Thursday, only four games separated sixth place in the West from ninth, with the Jazz nearer the outside than in. They have lost five of their last six games, and play three of their next four games on the road with an unforgiving schedule in the final 21 games.
So Corbin tried to attack it by tinkering with a lineup he’s been hesitant to mess with. When they’ve been healthy, Corbin has had faith in his first-choice starters to play their way through their struggles.
With Marvin Williams slumping badly, Corbin made his first change to the starting five that wasn’t based on an injury since Nov. 17 when he moved Gordon Hayward to the bench.
That same day, he moved Marvin Williams to the bench and Derrick Favors into the starting lineup, but that last just three games.
For the reasons Corbin saw fit to move Hayward out of the starting lineup, inserting Carroll could prove shrewd. While Hayward performs better when he has the ball in his hands, Carroll, in theory, doesn’t need it to be effective.
“By DeMarre coming to the first group,” Jefferson said, “I think that will pick up our energy a little bit because he’s very active.”
The self-proclaimed “Junkyard Dog” has seen his scoring spike in recent weeks, but his best asset is away from the ball, getting loose in transition and corralling loose balls.
“Any guy that brings energy and has the intangibles, he has can play with any group,” Mo Williams said.
Entering Friday, the new starting lineup has appeared in six games together — five losses, it should be noted — in just 64 minutes. But the results, in a small sample size, have been positive. The group is plus-5.2 points per 48 minutes.
While Corbin declined to say whether he expected the new lineup to remain intact throughout the season, the third-year coach is usually careful to make changes.
The one to reassign Marvin Williams, who has struggled from the start, took 61 games.
The lineup has deficiencies. Mo Williams and Randy Foye are both undersized at their positions and are among the worst rebounding guards in the NBA.
But Corbin expressed relief and borderline joy with Williams’ return from a 32-game hiatus due to thumb surgery.
At the end of the game, Williams’ layup to put his team up 103-102 rimmed out, the Cavs made two free throws and the Jazz lost.
But the play itself, Williams darting around obstacles and getting a clean look at the go-ahead basket, filled an oft-noted hole for the Jazz.
“Mo gave us what we thought he would give us,” Corbin said. “The speed. Even on the layup he missed, to get from where he got to the basket so quickly, although he missed the layup, was what we missed.”
After a surgery and a minor adjustment to the lineup, the Jazz are at what Corbin hopes is full strength.
The Jazz just hope it’s strong enough.
Jazz at Bulls
P At United Center (Chicago)
Tipoff • Friday, 6 p.m.
TV • ROOT
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM, 960 AM
Records • Jazz 32-29; Bulls 34-27
Season series • Bulls lead, 1-0
About the Jazz • Al Jefferson is listed as a game-time decision but is expected to play after missing three games with a sprained left ankle. ... The Jazz are 0-3 in games where DeMarre Carroll starts alongside Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Randy Foye and Mo Williams. ... The Jazz have lost five of their past six games, including the first two on this four-game road trip.
About the Bulls • Former MVP Derrick Rose moves closer to returning from a left knee injury but is listed as out. ... The Bulls defeated the Jazz 93-89 on Feb. 8 behind 19 points from former Utah forward Carlos Boozer. ... Boozer averages 15.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.
• By starting DeMarre Carroll, Tyrone Corbin made his first change to the starting lineup not based on an injury since mid-November.
• The Jazz are 0-3 in games in which the expected new starting lineup started.
• In his first game back after missing 32, Mo Williams immediately displayed the speed that makes him so valuable.