Orlando, Fla. • By the conclusion of Saturday night’s 125-85 win over Orlando, Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles became engaged in conversation with Magic fans sitting baseline.
In the moments after Utah’s first road win of the season, rookie guard Donovan Mitchell doused Rodney Hood with gatorade, cooling him off after he erupted for a season-high 31 points. And in the locker room, there was more playful banter than at any point of Utah’s current road trip.
“We really needed this one,” Hood said.
Entering Saturday night as the only team in the NBA without a road win, the Jazz played a hungry, desperate game in Orlando. They led by as many as 46 points, scored over 30 points in two quarters and didn’t score under 28 points in a quarter.
They held the Magic to 37 points in the second half. They forced 16 turnovers, came up with 10 steals and blocked four shots. The Jazz have been good offensively in the past week, but they came up short against the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets because they haven’t been good defensively.
Against the Magic, they played as good defensively as they’ve played in three weeks.
“It was a team effort defensively,” Favors said. “We knew they were a good team. They have a lot of players who can make plays offensively. So we tried to make them take tough shots and keep them out of the paint and contest every shot. We limited them in transition as well.”
Saturday’s performance is great in a vacuum, and becomes amazing considering Utah was playing its third game in four nights.
The Jazz also had a difficult flight from New York to Orlando, arriving at their hotel at nearly 4 a.m. Saturday. But they went through their normal back-to-back routine. They met, talked and analyzed film. In their discussions, players hammered this point home: They had to come out and play with energy. More importantly, they had to get the early lead, because they’ve trailed for almost all of their previous three games.
“We needed a lead, especially on a back-to-back,” Ingles said. “We knew that if we fell behind, and we’re playing on just a few hours of sleep, it could be tough for us. So we wanted to play with energy, and we wanted to play with a lead.”
Utah accomplished both.
Hood turned in perhaps the best performance of his career. His 31 points came on 12-of-21 shooting. He made seven 3-pointers and grabbed a season-high five rebounds. Fifteeen of his points came in the third quarter and 21 came after halftime. He scored 19 consecutive points in one stretch.
Each time he rose for a jumper in the second half, the Jazz bench rose with him in anticipation. With each swish, Utah’s bench roared with approval. Saturday night was the Rodney Hood that the franchise hoped they were getting in the wake of Gordon Hayward’s departure for Boston.
“I got an easy layup and from there my shot felt good,” Hood said. “I was real aggressive and I got to the basket a couple of times and then it kept falling from there.”
Hood wasn’t the only Jazz player to turn in a season-best performance. Raul Neto dropped a career-high 22 points on Friday night. He was better on Saturday night with nine points and seven assists, and the Jazz outscored Orlando by an astounding 44 points when he was on the floor.
Favors scored a season-high 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Jonas Jerebko scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds. The Jazz’s point total was a season-high, and the fourth time in the past five games they’ve scored at least 100 points.
“It’s nice to see some of the work and the emphasis that we’ve been doing begin to show some results,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “I think our team earned the right to play well tonight.”
The Jazz (7-10) are by no means out of the woods, and the schedule doesn’t get any easier with the road trip ending Monday in Philadelphia.
But for one night, the Jazz showed what they can be if locked in on both ends of the floor. The next step is showing consistency.