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Monson: Jazz really believe they now can beat anybody

Published March 21, 2012 10:41 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A lot of people around here are bullish on the Jazz's future.

On Tuesday night, everyone was.

Especially the Jazz themselves, but also — no bull — the Oklahoma City Thunder.

And the present isn't without hope, either.

Barreling into EnergySolutions Arena for Game No. 46 was the best team in the West, a true measure of where — and what — the Jazz are right now and an inspiration for where — and what — they one day want to be: a rising, young, legitimate contender.

The Thunder, led by their rotating and rapid-fire armament of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, entered the building with the NBA's second-best record: 34-11.

Make it 34-12.

The Jazz won their fourth straight game, this time by the count of 97-90, showing a toughness and togetherness among young and old against the Thunder that wasn't always all that evident not that long ago.

It is now.

"We all like each other," said oldster Jamaal Tinsley, who made 5 of 7 shots for 11 points. "We all pull for each other. There's no hidden agenda here. Just one agenda — win ball games."

Said youngster Derrick Favors, who scored seven and rebounded nine: "We all want to see and work for each other to succeed."

So they did.

Add in this notice from Westbrook: "The Jazz are a good team. They are going to go a long way, especially with the young guys they have."

For the second consecutive game, the Jazz held one of the NBA's most explosive scorers to a woeful showing. First Kobe Bryant hit just 3 of 20 shots and committed seven turnovers in a Lakers loss, and then Durant scudded up 22 attempts and made only six, with six turnovers.

"Good things continue to happen when we work hard," said Tyrone Corbin. "These guys understand what it's going to take to win in this league."

And to beat formidable teams like the Thunder.

Let's say it the way it is here: Oklahoma City is seen as a kind of optimistic blueprint for the Jazz, loaded as they are with skilled young players. The Jazz's talent is different than the Thunder's, having no upstart point guard anywhere near what Westbrook is, and, as promising as Utah's crowded 21-and-under club seems, no one in that group will ever regularly score like Durant.

But the Jazz's Fab Four — Favors, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks and Gordon Hayward — are improving as rapidly as their sometimes stubborn coach, Corbin, allows them minutes on the floor. That's another difference between the two teams.

The Thunder, the league's best young outfit, have completely turned their fate over to their youngsters. The Jazz have not yet done so.

On the other hand, the 23-year-old Durant turned pro four years ago. Westbrook, who also is 23, has been in the league for three seasons. Harden and Serge Ibaka are both 22.

They are just a tick or two ahead of Favors and Hayward, who are in their second seasons, and rooks Burks and Kanter.

But anyone who witnessed the Jazz's win over the Lakers at Staples Center on Sunday, and the confidence with which that coming generation played, should have few doubts about the mental composition of those burgeoning players. Corbin, for his part, let the youngsters play more in that game because he was forced to. Al Jefferson and Raja Bell were not available to him.

But there is more pleasant news for the Jazz. They appear to be effectively meshing their vets with their relative newbies, finding some space for each group.

"At times, we can have a veteran lineup, at others a really young lineup," said Corbin. "And, then, we can mix everybody in. They're all responding."

Against the Thunder, six Jazz players scored in double figures, and nearly everyone, particularly Hayward, played strong defense against Durant and his normally high-flying offensive teammates.

It was impressive.

"Right now, we believe in each other," Favors said. "We support each other."

This whole Jazz endeavor is not about punting on the season in the name of development, looking past end results and forgetting about any shot at the playoffs. It's about development and results. It's about mixing and matching and winning. The truth is, the Jazz are at their competitive strongest now when everybody's in the pool.

"When we play together ... when we play the right way," Tinsley said, "we can beat anybody."

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.