Al Jefferson has been the focal point of the Jazz offense since his arrival in 2010. There is no surprise when the Jazz pound the ball to the center on the left block. That part of the court is his workshop, where he toils and tinkers, finding new ways to frustrate competent, professional big men into looking foolish.
Jefferson took 23 shots on Wednesday. His role in the Jazz offense is not diminished. But is it changing?
That was the sense given by both Mo Williams and Paul Millsap following the Jazz's 103-88 win over the Phoenix Suns. Jefferson finished with 25 points on 12-of-23 shooting, and he scored six of the team's first 10 points to start the game. However, both Williams and Millsap said the Jazz have changed the offensive philosophy at beginnings of games, which could explain the fast starts in Monday's win over Philadelphia and Wednesday.
Both nights, the Jazz made their first six shots.
"I think we got a little carried away with just coming down, starting the game, just throwing it down to Al, letting him work." Millsap said. "It made it too tough on him, made it too tough on everybody else. It's basically just getting everybody moving, moving the basketball around."
Millsap said the Jazz's focus needs to be "getting different options."
Every Jazz starter had scored by the 5:57 mark of the first quarter when Mo Williams made an 18-foot jumper. At the end of the first, the Jazz led 34-23 and had shot 69.6 percent from the floor.
Here's Mo Williams' explanation of what the Jazz are doing:
"I think we're coming out and we're running different stuff than we usually run. More and more pick and roll situations. We're going to eventually go to Al a lot. I think it's better when we come out and we get some pick and rolls, which we have, and kind of getting Gordon going early, getting him in motion, getting some ball movement. Getting bodies moving, instead of just coming in and going to Al. The perimeter first shots or the jump shots, those are tough."
*** Gordon Hayward had 25 points Wednesday, marking his sixth game of 20 or more points since returning from a right shoulder sprain on Feb. 19. That means in 17 games he's notched two more such games than in the 45 games he played before hurting his shoulder.
"I just kind of let the game come to me," Hayward said. "We did a good job on the pick and roll game and that allowed me to create and get going offensive and got some easy shots early that I was able to knodck down and any time that happens it's always good."
In two straight games the Jazz have answered runs with bigger runs. Tonight it was 17-2 to start the fourth quarter. This is an encouraging sign, even if the opponents have been Philadelphia (bad) and Phoenix (worse).
Enes Kanter's shoulder injury was nasty. The big man went down in the second quarter when he and Hamed Haddadi both dove after a loose ball. The play resulted in a jump ball and Kanter's most serious injury since he joined the team last season.
You wouldn't know that his season could be in jeopardy from the way he behaved after the game. He'll have an MRI on Thursday, but at night, he wore his left arm in a sling and was draped in a sweater. His jeans hung low on his hips, his abs were exposed. He smiled and joked.
"Right now," he said, "I'm all right."
When one reporter said that girls love taking care of injured guys, Kanter said they had "already texted me."
The guy is as much of a character as I've ever covered. He walks an enjoyable balance between the absurd (Kyrylo Fesenko, anyone? Anyone) but backs it up with a stunning work ethic.
There was a bit of confusion on the play when Kanter was injured. Head trainer Gary Briggs immediately started to lead Kanter to the locker room but Tyrone Corbin and Briggs had a conversation first. Corbin said later that he wanted to make sure Briggs believed Kanter's injury was serious enough to keep him out of the game. Per NBA rules, if he left the game without jumping, he would not be eligible to return.
The shoulder looked ugly after the injury, with a clear protrusion.
"It looked like it was out a little bit," Corbin said. "I've thrown my shoulder out before and popped it back in, so looks can be deceiving at times. But he's a 20 year old kid, so it's his first time."
The Suns got to choose who jumped against Haddadi and the Suns, of course, selected Mo Williams. Mo smiled gamely and swatted at Haddadi's hands before the ball was tossed.
The 7-foot-2 Iranian won the tip.