Houston • The Jazz went the final 18:11 of their 100-93 loss to the Houston Rockets without a traditional point guard on the floor. Mo Williams has struggled badly since returning from thumb surgery, and against a long, athletic team like the Rockets, Jamaal Tinsley and Earl Watson are poor matchups.
Enter the super backcourt of Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks. This is unlikely a sustainable backcourt going into the future, but on Wednesday it was the team's best option. [Note: Despite the title of this post, the Jazz do need a point guard; they can't simply jettison the three traditional PGs. But in stretches, this Hayward/Burks combo has real potential, as we saw tonight.] The Jazz trailed 67-45 when Williams left the game, meaning they were plus-15 with Hayward and Burks on the court together in the second half.
Hayward: "I think we work well off of each other. He can drive and draw and kick and that helps both of ourselves and our teammates. He did a real good job of attacking in the fourth quarter and he went to the rim and tried to make plays. That's when Alec is at his best when he attacks and we get to the free throw line."
Now, that pair got to enjoy playing against Carlos Delfino and Patrick Beverley for the first half of that stretch, but continued the run when James Harden and Jeremy Lin came back with 8:25 remaining in the game.
"Those two guys, they have the ability to make plays for themselves and for other people," Marvin Williams said.
Williams was part of the Jazz lineup that really clicked in the fourth quarter. Just so nobody gets left out of this: Marvin Williams, Al Jefferson, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and Derrick Favors put together one of the best quarters — against a quality opponent — that the Jazz have had in a long time.
Houston made just four field goals in the final 12:44 of the ballgame. For a team that leads the league in pace and scoring — fourth in points per 100 possession with 107.6 — that is almost unthinkable.
Any concern about Millsap and/or Mo Williams reacting negatively to benching? Corbin: "No. I hope not."
Is it just me, or is it the greatest indictment of the Jazz that they claim to have the deepest front court in the league but are consistently outrebounded? Tonight itwas 44-36 by a team that starts Omer Asik and Donatas Motiejunas.
I tweeted this earlier today, but didn't get it into the paper. Spoke with Marvin Williams following the Jazz's shoot around and asked if he had given any thought to the player option he holds at the end of the season. The Jazz have eight players entering free agency after this season, and Williams could be the ninth. His response could have been expected: hadn't thought about it, loves Salt Lake, etc. At the end of the day, the former No. 2 overall pick is set to make 7,500,000 of the Miller family's dollars and there aren't many players who would just give that back.
Ty Corbin said he was willing to get creative with his rotations tonight if things didn't go well. How is this for creative? Al Jefferson and Gordon Hayward did not sit for the final 24 minutes of the game. That's right, they did not come out of the game in the second half.
Jefferson finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds — his 31st double-double of the season.
Enes Kanter played just 5 minutes, his shortest on-court stint since Jan. 30 when he played 5 minutes against the New Orleans Hornets.
Here was Corbin's rationale:
"Al was going pretty good, he was going pretty good. When he wasn't getting shots, he was drawing the double team, he was making the right passes, he got alittle tired there but I was going to take him out and then he was going pretty good. We had a timeout, I let him stay in there. The team rallied around him, because we can go secondarily to him to get the ball and the guys can make plays on the backside."
The Jazz play at San Antonio on Friday and Dallas on Sunday. Those are both tough places for the Jazz to get wins. Incidentally, Dallas is the last place the Jazz have not played a game this season.
If they lose both, the Jazz will fall two games below .500 for the first time since Dec. 30, when they were 15-17 after a loss ot the Los Angeles Clippers. Incidentally, before tonight the Jazz hadn't been even in the win-loss column since they were 19-19 on Jan. 11.
A little playoff guessing game...
Next five for the Warriors (39-31): vs. Wizards, vs. Lakers, vs. Kings, vs. Trail Blazers, vs. Hornets (Prediction: 4-1)
Next five for the Rockets (37-31): vs. Cavaliers, vs. Spurs, vs. Pacers, @ Grizzlies, vs. Clippers (Prediction: 1-4)
Next five for the Lakers (36-33): vs. Wizards, @ Warriors, @ Timberwolves, @ Bucks, @ Kings. (Prediction: 4-1)
Next five for the Jazz (34-34): @ San Antonio, @ Dallas, vs. 76ers, vs. Suns, @ Trail Blazers. (Prediction: 2-3)
On the off chance I'm correct (I have Montana beating Syracuse tomorrow, after all), the bottom of the Western Conference playoff chase will look like this in a week:
6. Warriors (43-32)
7. Lakers (40-34)
8. Rockets (38-35)
9. Jazz (36-37)
The Jazz would be two games out with 9 games left.
Like Marvin Williams said tonight: "We don't have the most time on our side, that's just the reality of the situation. There is still time. There is still time."
The Jazz's 33 points at the mid-way point was the fewest in a half by a Rockets' opponent. The Jazz didn't break their own record, though. They outdid themselves with a 28-point first half last week in Oklahoma City.
First quarters are killing the Jazz. They've been outscored in the first period in six of their last eight games.
The Toyota Center was dead tonight. Announced attendance was 15,729 of 18,043, but it felt a few thousand short of that. Houston isn't even close to the level of Philadelphia, Washington, Phoenix (lately), New Orleans, Detroit, Atlanta when it comes to paltry attendance, so I can't ding them too hard for that. It just makes you appreciate the places where fans do show up that much more. Yes, Salt Lake City — you little mountain pocket of basketball fiends — I am talking to you. Well done.
Not flying to San Antonio tomorrow. Instead, I'm taking alternate transit. That's right: the open road, pavement straight ahead, America to the sides. Hope the loyal ol' jalopy (Mazda 6, provided by Hertz) doesn't fail me now. But seriously, anybody have a breakfast recommendation along Interstate 10 for a lonely travelin' man? Or a place I can grab a Merle Haggard CD?
It's not often my predecessor weighs in on the Jazz, so when he does, I feel compelled to share.
— Bill Oram
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