Tuesday started with Jazz forward Jeremy Evans acknowledging that he jumped over his Camaro. It ended with Utah embarrassing the Los Angeles Clippers, 108-79, at EnergySolutions Arena.
A little less than three weeks ago, the Jazz were a mess. Now, they're one of the hottest teams in the NBA and easily one of the league's best early-season surprises.
Home court has helped. As has a semi-soft schedule. But with recent convincing wins over Denver and Lob City, and a near-defeat of the Los Angeles Lakers in overtime, Utah's exceeding expectations and playing better ball than most imagined possible at this point in the year.
The Jazz are also having fun. The locker room's loose. Coaches are making an impact. The offense is clicking, the defense has improved and Utah's throwing the first punch instead of sitting back and waiting to react.
By keeping the Jazz's core intact and making slight tweaks to the team's deep roster in advance of a chaotic lockout-shortened season, general manager Kevin O'Connor has positioned Utah ahead of the curve.
How different — and more confident — are the Jazz compared to the team that was blown out by a combined 42 points during back-to-back road losses to start the 2011-12 season? After Evans made Clippers forward Blake Griffin an afterthought Tuesday night, rookie guard Alec Burks reminded his teammate of something crucial to the Jazz's succes.
"Hey, dog. You still don't jump higher than me," Burks said.
He added: "I should be in the dunk contest, not you."
Evans laughed. Burks laughed. And the Jazz soaked in every bit of their blowout.
Evans on how he jumped over his black-and-yellow 2011 Camaro: It was [last] summer. Me and two of my little cousins were outside. I just started thinking about it. I was in St. Louis. … They wanted to see it. They didn't believe me. I didn't believe me. I was scared myself. I think it was a little bit of them and me. Daring myself and then them daring. It was just, like, a straight jump — a long jump, maybe. I took a couple steps. I didn't take off from far distance. … My goal was to land on the other side, instead of the middle of the car on the hood. I didn't touch it.
Jamaal Tinsley on his Harlem Globetrotters-esque behind-the-back basket: Aw, man. I've got a lot of that stuff.
At least five Jazz players have regularly started attending a pregame chapel session.
Assistant coaches Sidney Lowe and Michael Sanders worked hard with rookie center Enes Kanter on pregame post moves.
Al Jefferson gave Evans a hard time about his devotion to popcorn. Evans devours a bucket of popcorn before each game, and Jefferson joked that Evans regularly hides the bucket so other players can't eat out of it.
Jefferson also joked that he doesn't have any problems finishing off alley-oop dunks. Mainly because Big Al doesn't need to jump for alley-oops. He just reaches up and dunks the ball. Alley-oops are a waste of his effort and time.
Much talk before the game by Tinsley about making sure Evans is entered in the NBA All-Star dunk contest. Tinsley said it several times at different points pregame, encouraging his teammates to make sure Evans is included.
"We trying to get him in there," Tinsley said. "He got a lot of skills and hopefully he can be a part of that."
Raja Bell started the game guarding Chauncey Billups, while Paul Millsap took Griffin.
Burks backed down fellow former Colorado standout Billups along the right post, scoring a smooth basket off a bank shot. The two trained together during the NBA lockout, and Burks has often said good things about Mr. Big Shot.
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan talked so loud while calling out defensive assignments he could be heard about 40 feet away from the court.
Kanter scored a season-high 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting and grabbed five boards. He also hit what appeared to be his longest jump shot of the season, showing a hint of what he regularly nails during pregame warmups.
Rough contest for Gordon Hayward (three points, 0 of 4 in 17:38). Tinsley and Bell talked to Hayward during the second quarter after he passed up a wide-open 3-pointer, then missed following a second look.
Another solid game by Bell (eight points) and a heckuva outing by C.J. Miles (19 points, five rebounds, four steals) who said he entered the game telling himself to do nothing but be aggressive and attack the basket. He did just that, and he propelled the Jazz as soon as he took the court.
Better shooting from Devin Harris (13 points, 5 of 9), who picked his spots well.
Off night from the field for Jefferson (4 of 14), but it didn't matter. He grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds and held his own on defense.
The Jazz shot 27 of 31 from the free-throw line and outrebounded the Clippers 48-45. Meanwhile, Utah committed just eight turnovers and outscored Lob Angeles 56-34 in the paint. Jerry Sloan would've been proud.
Chris Paul and Josh Howard caught up during halftime.
Derrick Favors said he plans to play Thursday against Dallas and will try out his sprained right ankle Wednesday during practice.
The Jazz's road win Sunday against Denver previously was their best victory of the season. Utah's destruction of the Clippers easily topped it. Fun, upbeat game that often looked like a looped SportsCenter highlight reel. Wherever the Jazz go from here, Bell nailed it Sunday when he said it's hard to argue with 8-4. It's even harder to argue with 9-4 and second place in the West.
Brian T. Smith
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