Memphis, Tenn. — The first sign Sunday things felt right was during shootaround, when coach Tyrone Corbin openly discussed brining his team Saturday to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. The second was Utah's pregame locker room, which was a perfect mix of focus and looseness. Raja Bell zoned out on his iPad. Gordon Hayward, Jeremy Evans and Earl Watson continued to bond. Alec Burks watched the trio and laughed. Al Jefferson teased a trainer. For a team facing its biggest road test of the season, the unproven Jazz looked like they'd been there, done that.
They soon had, knocking off the Grizzlies 98-88 and starting off their back-to-back-to-back road journey on the highest of notes.
Bell has exceptional taste in television. He revealed he's a big fan of "Deadwood" and "Justified" and admires the work of actor Timothy Olyphant.
Serious pregame discussion about how much better Disney World is than Disneyland. So serious Hayward had to man up and remind Watson, who loves the latter, that D-Land "sucks." With Hayward heading to Orlando, Fla., for the Rising Stars Challenge, the better Disney is already on the radar. If only The Human Pogo Stick would make the trip and join G-Man in amusement park heaven.
Al Jefferson was very pleased after the win. But he also kept his playoff-glasses on, saying he wants the Jazz to win five of their next seven, if not all seven.
"We have proved to ourself and to the coach that we can play like this. So there should be no excuse why, tomorrow night, we can't pick up where we left off," Jefferson said. "It's not, play well one game and then take three off. … We've got to do it. We talk about being a playoff team. We talk about being one of the top teams in the West, we got play like we did tonight. No excuses."
Late in the fourth quarter, when the Jazz's fight was about to peak, the team's bench ran onto the court like a college game was in session, leaving Jefferson to jokingly shout out, "You look like you're God damn surprised?"
Big Al: Everybody jumped off the bench. What happen was, when I got the ball, I went up for the shot and I passed it to Raja. He hit the 3. Everybody jump off the bench, 'Good pass!' I'm looking at 'em, 'Y'all surprised? I don't do this often?' I'm just — they were looking like, 'He finally did it.' C'mon, man. I don't do this often? It was good.
Jefferson gave a low-five to Hayward late in the game during a timeout, then said, "C'mon. Let's go play basketball."
Utah assistant Sidney Lowe was more passionate than I've seen him all season. He shouted his lungs out during crucial stretches, pushing Devin Harris and the Jazz to tighten up their defense, yelling "Step up" and "Stop the ball! Stop the ball!"
Corbin's decision to bring the Jazz to the MLK museum obviously held several important meanings. But after the win, he joked about being open to hitting up the World War II museum in New Orleans before facing the Hornets on Monday, or at least turning the team's Monday morning breakfast into a museum-like tour of their hotel. Even visiting New Orleans' aquarium was tossed into the conversation.
"Whatever we need to do to stay together," Corbin said laughing.
G-Man on acting and reacting instead of overthinking: Before shootaround, Earl said, 'Just let it fly.' He told all the guards, 'Let's just let it fly. Don't worry about it.' So we came out and were able to get off to a good start and we got it going. I got a steal and dunk and that kind of got me rolling a little bit. And after you hit a couple shots the basket just gets real big and it started going in.
Earl Watson was again held scoreless but dished out five assists. Before tipoff, Watson said he actually wasn't supposed to be activated until this week. Thanks to the Disney-esque magic of a Los Angeles laser, he returned earlier.
Bell (10 points, 4 of 9) continues to shoot well when he gets a shot.
Bell on the team sticking together: Giving up is not even — that can't even be a thought. That's not even in the vocabulary. When things don't go well, you have to continue to try to find it. … You continue to trust your teammates and have a good relationship and know that it's just a matter of finding it. It's kind of like riding a bike: you just have to find it again. That's kind of where we are, and tonight was a good step.
Not only did Hayward spend his second consecutive game performing as Utah's best overall player, but he gave the team a legitimate third option on offense. It wasn't just Jefferson and Paul Millsap carrying the weight Sunday, and Memphis couldn't handle all three at once.
Derrick Favors filled in a pre-tipoff role C.J. Miles used to hold down. When the Jazz's starters walked on to the court just before jumpball, Favors slapped hands and pumped his teammates up.
DeMarre Carroll spent pregame drills shooting with Scott Layden. Fairly nice touch from outside.
On the court, Favors and Enes Kanter are becoming tied at the hip. They're basically entering and leaving games at the same time. And lately, they've done excellent work at important times as an interior duo.
Alec Burks (4:37) finally got some run. Corbin acknowledged he's doing his best to find time for the rookie, and it's up to him to get Burks in the game.
Memphis started the game hitting just 12 of its first 37 shots.
Who needs a closer? The Jazz were 12 of 19 from the floor during the fourth quarter and shot 56.1 percent during the second half. Utah also sank 3 of 6 3-pointers after the break, and dished out 15 assists while committing just six turnovers.
The Jazz should beat New Orleans, who's lost eight consecutive games and is 1-17 in its last 18. With a win against the Hornets, Utah would be 2-0 on its back-to-back-to-back road trip, suddenly in a much better position with the All-Star break approaching.
Rudy Gay was good but not great Sunday. The story of much of his career. He could've taken the game over several times. He never did.
O.J. Mayo was invisible and also never touched his talent.
The Grizzlies' bench was their downfall. Utah's reserves outscored Memphis 19-13, but the edge in production was captured more by momentum and intensity.
Marreese Speights (11 rebounds, huge body) is definitely coming along.
The non All-Star (Jefferson) outplayed the actual All-Star (Marc Gasol).
Radio: Scheduled to appear on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone on Monday morning and afternoon to discuss Jazz-Hornets.
Brian T. Smith
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