Marvin Williams has heard the hype about Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and the rest of soon-to-be NBA lottery picks.
But when the NBA’s two worst records went head to head at EnergySolutions Arena, the veteran Jazz forward quickly put to rest any talk of the T-word.
“Nobody in a Utah Jazz uniform is going to tank anything,” he said. “Obviously they’ve got a great group of young players coming out next year. Maybe they’ll be fortunate enough to land one. But we’re here right now and we’re going to try to win as many games as we can.”
The Jazz tallied one more Thursday night, beating the bottom-dwelling Milwaukee Bucks 96-87.
After starting the year a dismal 1-14, the Jazz have played .500 basketball over their last 20 games.
“We hate to lose,” said rookie point guard Trey Burke, who had 11 points, five rebounds and four assists against the Bucks. “We’re trying to do whatever it takes to get wins out there. I think everybody’s mindset has changed on this team. We faced a lot of adversity coming into this season. I think we’re having fun out there now. We’re starting to come together as a team.”
Center Enes Kanter, one of three double-figure scorers to come off Utah’s bench, has noticed a mood swing too.
“Losing is not fun,” Kanter said. “When you’re winning like this, there is like a different atmosphere in the team. We’ve been playing with so much confidence compared to last month. We’re really comfortable out there.”
After a closely contested first quarter Thursday, the Jazz took control of the game. Swingman Gordon Hayward scored 18 of his game-high 22 points in the first half as the Jazz built up 51-42 lead over last-place Milwaukee (7-25). Hayward, who has struggled to shoot at a high percentage this season, hit on 8 of his 16 attempts from the floor, including 3 of 5 from behind the arc.
Utah led by as much as 15 on the night.
In the fourth quarter, Milwaukee cut the lead to five after guard Gary Neal buried a 3-pointer and Caron Butler followed it up with a bucket on the next trip down the floor.
That’s when third-year Jazz guard Alec Burks stepped up. Burks scrambled to recover a loose ball and finished the play with a reverse layup. On the next possession, good ball movement opened Burks up for a corner 3 to cushion the lead.
Milwaukee made one more surge, trimming the Jazz advantage to three on a Larry Sanders layup with just over three minutes to play. The Bucks, who have been injury-plagued all year, got a solid outing from Sanders, who scored 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds in his fourth game back from injury.
But once again, Burks answered with a basket, two of his 13 points in 30 minutes off the bench.
Jazz big man Derrick Favors recorded his 11th double-double of the year, dropping in 21 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.
Milwaukee rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo had 10 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
The Jazz now head to Los Angeles for a Friday night tilt against the Lakers. It’s one of just four road games the Jazz will play in January. All but four of the Jazz’s 12 games this month come against teams with losing records.
“We’re in a pretty big hole,” Jazz forward Richard Jefferson said. “Making up ground is probably not the right term. I think continuing to improve is where we want to be. Maybe if we were in the East we can call it making up ground. But out in the West, with these monsters, it’s just a matter of improving and setting the right tones for the future.”
For the Jazz, the future certainly looks better than the immediate past.
“For everybody it should feel better because you worked so hard and now you’re getting some wins at the end of it,” Jazz coach Ty Corbin said. “We have a lot of work left to do. But it’s good with the struggles we had earlier in the year to see us start having some success and start to see improvement in areas where we want to get better.”