For a change, the Jazz actually helped themselves Saturday night.
The Jazz enjoyed a highly productive week, while playing just two games. Thanks only in part to their own wins over Miami and Cleveland (109-98) at EnergySolutions Arena, they’ve moved into seventh place in the Western Conference — three games out of fifth.
They’ve done it with the aid of collapses by Houston and Portland, which basically means that other teams have dictated the Jazz’s strategy for the second half of the season.
There’s no turning back now. In other words, if you were hoping for just enough of a downturn to make Jazz management hand over this season to Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter in the interest of development, that’s not going to happen. It can’t happen.
Fortunately or not, by going 22-19 in the face of a demanding first-half schedule, the Jazz have committed themselves to competing for decent playoff spot.
It means if they’re going to trade Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap by Feb. 21 before potentially losing them to free agency, they’d better have a very good offer. It means coach Tyrone Corbin must continue to play this tricky game of serving two masters, trying to win now while building a team for the future. And it means the Jazz need to make a second-half push to earn the No. 5 seed and give themselves a reasonable chance of advancing beyond the first round of the playoffs.
If they were well below the playoff cut at this stage, then yeah, it might be worth investing more in the kids at the expense of this season. But Corbin and his team have earned the right to play this thing out for a while longer — even beyond the trade deadline, if they keep winning.
Just by the percentages, having played 24 road games and 17 home games, the Jazz should finish around 46-36. And there’s potential for an even better record, judging by the way the offense is improving.
Whether Corbin and his staff are teaching the scheme better or Jefferson simply is figuring it out and learning to pass, it’s beginning to work. The Jazz still are shooting less than 45 percent from the field and have a propensity for blowing big leads, but they’re coming around.
They’ve dealt surprisingly well with point guard Mo Williams’ injury absence and have positioned themselves for a strong finish. And Corbin is showing signs of growing into the job, while managing the franchise’s dual interests.
"We have both ends of the spectrum," he said. "We have young guys that we need to develop; we have veteran guys that need to play, and we need to win. We’re plugging along at it, with the dynamics of having so many free agents and trying to understand how that works into it."
It all worked nicely against Cleveland, as Randy Foye scored 20 points and his outside shooting made the offense look efficient. Jefferson posted 14 points, 11 rebounds and four assists. Favors contributed 19 points and eight rebounds in 25 minutes, as he should do against the likes of Luke Walton. Kanter also was productive in extra minutes, with the Jazz leading comfortably.
Everybody went home happy. So the basic personnel strategy remains intact.
"We won’t change anything," Corbin said. "The mix is still the same."
So are the goals. The most unfortunate development of the season’s first half is Golden State’s improvement, meaning that the draft choice the Warriors owe the Jazz probably won’t be in the lottery. Neither will the Jazz’s own pick.
That’s fine. I’m solidly in the camp that says making the playoffs is important to this organization’s growth — unless that means being swept again. The Jazz’s challenge, then, is to rise above the level of postseason doom.
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