In the brightly lit locker room, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap sit and joke and get dressed in front of adjacent wooden lockers along the back wall. One sits quietly and listens to music. The other barks out jokes and directions at younger players.
The two men anchor the center of the room, the place where, if you were to think of the Utah Jazz as a single living unit, the heart would go. From here, all things are spawned. When the Jazz lose, this is where critics point and talk like no one can hear them.
And while speculation is rampant over whether one of the two veterans will be traded, or whether either will re-sign in the offseason or whether the Jazz even want them back, they are, for now, also the cornerstones of a team that on Wednesday, was in desperate need of a win.
Despite a sluggish start Wednesday, they got it.
The Jazz (25-21) beat the 15-31 New Orleans Hornets 104-99, and improved to 5-1 in games where the two big men each score 20 or more points.
Millsap led all scorers with 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Jefferson added 22 points in front of a season-low 17,490 fans at EnergySolutions Arena.
“We’re two of the leaders on this team,” Millsap said. “We’ve got to take it upon ourselves to get this team going, no matter what that is. It’s scoring, rebounding getting defensive stops, we’ve got to be the backbone of it.”
The Jazz were coming off one of the worst losses in franchise history, a 48-minute highlight reel for the Houston Rockets that left the Jazz on the wrong end of a 125-80 result.
“It feels good to get a win after the performance the other night,” coach Tyrone Corbin said. “With all the pressure of the other evening and the performance we laid out there, to come in and just continue to fight.”
The Jazz played their second straight game without Gordon Hayward (sprained shoulder) but were buoyed by strong performances from Derrick Favors (15 points, six rebounds) and Alec Burks (eight points in 16 minutes, including several playing point guard in the fourth quarter). That pair provided a glimpse of what the Jazz hope is an exciting future.
But Wednesday was about leadership, and the veterans that weren’t going to stand to let Monday’s turmoil spill over to another game.
“I don’t even remember the other night,” Jefferson joked. “Don’t know what you’re talking about. I was watching Monday Night Raw.”Next Page »