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Utah Jazz postgame wrap — Fighting for a new identity

Raja Bell was slumped down in his chair. Devin Harris was buried in his. Earl Watson was completely bent over, staring into nothingness and not acknowledging anything around him.

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Utah fell 94-91 to the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night. But the Jazz took another step forward.

A young, unproven team is maturing faster than anyone expected. So fast, it's becoming harder to call Utah unproven.

"I like to see the fight. We're not going to let anyone push us around," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "Guys have to step up for themselves."

Utah did just that against the Mavs. Derrick Favors battled Dirk Nowitzki. Watson did the same. And after Watson slapped the ball out of Nowitzki's hands and Favors was ejected late during the third quarter, the Jazz moved closer to establishing the identity Corbin has longed for since he took over last February for Jerry Sloan.

"We're a tight team," Favors said. "We stand up for each other. We watch each other's backs."

Showing fight doesn't guarantee wins. But for a team that features four players 21 or younger and entered the season with low expectations, the fact Utah's standing up for itself this early in the year says a great deal about everything from the squad's chemistry to the impact Corbin is making.

Veterans such as Watson, Bell and Jamaal Tinsley have sent a message. Paul Millsap cares about little other than playing basketball the right way. Al Jefferson has sharpened his focus. As a result, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks and Favors are learning how to fight and survive in the NBA. Utah could be Washington, Charlotte or Sacramento. Right now, they're not. They're the Jazz. Still instilled with Sloan's toughness, but fully removed from the problems that plagued last season's team.

"We see it everyday in practice," Harris said. "They care for one another, they want to protect one another. And we don't want see anyone get pushed around out there."

Roughest game of the season for Harris, who attempted a late 3 that could've made it 92-91 Mavs, but instead ended up in the stands. Harris' final line: one point on 0-of-7 shooting, two assists and one turnover in 23:34.

Alec Burks is fearless. He scored 10 points against the defending NBA champs and didn't hesitate with the ball in his hands.

Another strong game by C.J. Miles, who scored at least 17 points for the third time in four contests.

Kanter was again a Hoover vacuum: seven boards (three offensive) in 13:24.

Dallas scored just 12 points during the third quarter, which was when the fight peaked.

Millsap had eight offensive rebounds.

Nowitzki should've been tossed after slamming the ball during the third quarter. He earned a tech at the end of the first half for the same act.

Shawn Marion still has the ugliest shot in the NBA. But he scored a co-game high 22 points, initially gave Gordon Hayward trouble, and keyed Dallas' 34-28 second quarter.

Jason Kidd: 11 assists, two points, Hall of Famer.

Best crowd of the season at ESA. So good, Rick Carlisle offered lofty praise.

Scheduled to appear on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone at 8:55 a.m. Thursday to discuss all things Jazz.

Brian T. Smith

Twitter: @tribjazz

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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