Philadelphia • There’s no time like the present to make progress. Jazz center Al Jefferson is living proof.
Utah’s leading average scorer and rebounder has been the offensive focus of his team since Deron Williams was traded. But while putting the ball in the basket has never been a problem for soft-handed Big Al, passing sometimes has. To the point that Jefferson has spent his last two postgame interviews making fun of his previous black hole-like tendencies.
Jazz at 76ersAt Wells Fargo Center Tipoff » 5 p.m.
TV » ROOT Sports
Radio » 1320 AM, 1600 AM, 98.7 FM
Records » Jazz 19-19, 76ers 23-17
Last meeting » Jazz, 102-99 (Dec. 30, 2011)
About the Jazz » All 14 players are healthy heading into shootaround Friday morning. … The Jazz entered Thursday ranked 11th out of 30 teams in average scoring (96.8) and 12th in rebounds (42.8). … Utah can move to 3-1 on its five-game road trip by beating Philadelphia and guarantee a winning journey.
About the 76ers » Blew out Boston 103-71 at home Wednesday. Second-year forward Evan Turner scored a career-high 26 points for the 76ers after being inserted into the starting lineup. Prior to the win, Philly had lost eight of 10. … The 76ers entered Friday giving up the fewest points per game in the NBA (87.1) … Center Spencer Hawes (Achilles) is out; forward Thaddeus Young (illness) didn’t play against Boston.
During Utah’s road wins against Cleveland and Charlotte, the eight-year veteran either led or co-led the Jazz in points, rebounds and assists, combining for 56, 22 and 12 during his impressive two-game outburst.
But leave it to Jefferson to have a little fun with his former shoot-first tendencies, which were cemented during his loss-filled years in Minnesota.
"It took eight years for me to realize if I passed the ball out and guys hit shots, it open[s] me up," Jefferson said. "I guess better late than never."
While Big Al embraced modesty, Utah coach Tyrone Corbin didn’t hesitate when asked about his center’s improved all-around game.
"It’s been night and day. His understanding of not just him getting his numbers or getting his shots, but the importance of him making plays for his teammates and, as a result, how it frees things up for him," Corbin said. "Because now he’s not only a threat to score a jumpshot or score in the post, but he’s also a threat to make somebody else look bad by making the right basketball play and giving us an easy shot at the rim."
Are the Jazz a significantly better team than the one that entered the All-Star break sliding downward? No.
Has a tight but loose Utah team found rhythm while winning four of its last five, at the same time gaining ground in the stacked Western Conference? Undoubtedly.
The Jazz entered Thursday in fourth place in the Northwest Division, having jumped struggling Portland. Utah also climbed to 10th in the West, just four games behind third-place Memphis.
What a difference two weeks makes.
"That’s what we talked about, man. Three, four games in a row and you can go from being out of it to right in the middle of it, and then you lose a couple and you can go the other way," Corbin said. "We’ve got to make sure that we take care of business. … We can’t afford to overlook anybody at any point."
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