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Hayward has emerged as a player who can take over down the stretch with his 3-point shooting and play-making and defense.
Meanwhile, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Alex Burks all look like future pieces to the puzzle.
Jazz at the half
The MVP: Al Jefferson
Jefferson is the Jazz’s top scorer (17.4) and rebounder (9.9). He also leads them in minutes (33) and his low-post ability makes him the No. 1 option, especially in the final minutes of close games. When he leads the Jazz in scoring, they are 9-4.
Big surprise: Bombs away
The Jazz finished 27th in three-point shooting last season. Executives Kevin O’Connor and Dennis Lindsey knew improvement was needed, but they couldn’t have envisioned newcomers Randy Foye, Mo Williams and Marvin Williams would help make Utah a top-10 three-point team.
Best win: San Antonio.
The Spurs brought the NBA’s best record to Utah on Dec. 12 before Mo Williams’ three-pointer at the buzzer gave the Jazz a 99-96 victory. San Antonio owned an eight-point lead with 4:09 left but fell to 18-5 on Williams’ game-winner.
Worst loss: Golden State.
On the night after Christmas, the Jazz played without emotion. Stephen Curry scored 23 points, leading the Warriors to a 94-83 win. It wasn’t that close. Utah trailed by 20 in the fourth quarter and finished shooting 38 percent.
The Jazz are 16-6 when opponents score less than 100 points and, recently, their defense is improving. Utah has won six of its last eight games and, in those victories, the Jazz have allowed 90.7 points. Only Charlotte scored more than 97.
The coach: Tyrone Corbin
It’s tough to criticize Corbin. No team in the West has played more road games, yet the Jazz remain in the playoff race despite the rugged schedule and a damaging injury to Mo Williams. And consider: Utah is 13-5 in games decided by seven points or less.
Coming attraction: Brooklyn
Not only does Deron Williams return to Utah on March 30, but the Jazz start a potentially pivotal stretch. Beginning with the Nets, they play six of seven games at EnergySolutions Arena — just in time for a final push toward the playoffs.
Cavsat JazzSaturday, Energy Solutions Arena, 7 p.m., TV » ROOT
"Guys are just trying to get better and push forward," Millsap said. "We’re a focused team right now. We’re trying to make the playoffs and get as high as possible" in the Western Conference standings.
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