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After eighth straight win, Utah Jazz are suddenly having to swat away surging expectations

Before Utah dominates Golden State 127-108, Warriors coach Steve Kerr praises the Jazz as being “where we were three, four years ago” — that is, capable of winning a championship.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) collides with Golden State Warriors center James Wiseman (33) as he goes up for a shot, in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the Golden State Warriors at Vivint Arena, on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021.

After steamrolling their way to a 30-point lead at halftime, a 40-point lead after three quarters, and then cruising to a 127-108 victory over Golden State on Saturday night at Vivint Arena, the Utah Jazz — now winners of eight games in a row — are flying high.

Maybe a little too much so.

This is, after all, a group whose unofficial team mantra is “Never too high, never too low.” But after improving to 12-4 on the season with a win that wasn’t anywhere as close as the final score might make it appear, the Jazz are suddenly facing skyrocketing expectations, the views of Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley notwithstanding.

And so it was that, following the victory, Utah’s coach and players sought to put it all in perspective before the growing narrative becomes an 18-wheeler going downhill with non-functioning brakes.

“We’re not [even] a quarter of the way through the season. I’m not trying to dampen any enthusiasm — it’s OK to feel good about how you’re playing. But there’s a long season ahead, it’s a marathon, and there’s games where it clicks like it did tonight and there’s other games you have to grind,” said coach Quin Snyder. “And I just want us to stay steady. Not too high, not too low. The fact that we’re playing well right now is a good thing, but the challenge is to continue to play well, and that’s what we’re looking at.”

It’s a fair point.

But it’s also hard not to go overboard when the coach of the NBA’s most recent dynasty is comparing your team now to his team then.

Before Saturday’s game, the Warriors’ Steve Kerr was asked about trying to find a balance between exercising the patience needed to develop his young talent with the urgency requisite to win some more games. He noted that every team needs to have a good sense of its place in the food chain, and pointed to the difference between his own group and the Jazz.

“[Utah] is a veteran team. They’re trying to win a championship right now, and I think they’re capable of doing so,” Kerr said. “Watching them on tape, the continuity that they have compared to where we are, it’s night and day, just with execution. You know, they’re where we were three, four years ago.”

High praise — which the Jazz then went out and made appear prescient.

Aside from an exceedingly sloppy, garbage-time fourth quarter beset by turnovers and featuring 7-for-19 shooting from the deep reserves, it was a dominant performance in many respects.

For starters, the Warriors, prior to the throwaway fourth, made just 29 of 70 shots (41.4%). As for Utah, a team that already was setting league records for 3-point shooting was hot beyond the arc yet again, finishing 20 of 50 this time. The Jazz racked up 77 points by halftime.

Noted non-superstar Donovan Mitchell poured in 23 points in 27 minutes, while also somehow managing to add seven rebounds and six assists, despite having zero ability to impact games beyond getting buckets.

His half-dozen dimes, alas, were only the second-best mark on the team, as Bojan Bogdanovic established a new career-high with eight (to go along with 14 points and seven rebounds).

Meanwhile, Rudy Gobert contributed 11 points and 14 rebounds. Mike Conley dropped in 17 points and played exquisite perimeter defense. Sixth man Jordan Clarkson added 14 off the bench. Fellow reserve Joe Ingles dropped in 13 points — all after the break, three of which came on an open trey after breaking Kent Bazemore’s ankles with what the broadcast crew lovingly referred to as “the world’s slowest crossover.”

“Yeah, I mean, it’s not a consistent part of my game, obviously. I think Rudy probably just tripped him, to be honest,” Ingles said, apparently chagrined by a question about it. “I don’t think any of my moves are that cool that someone’s going to go for a fake that bad — let’s be honest.”

As for the Jazz’s win Saturday and his bigger-picture view of where they stand …

“Honestly, on the next one. It was good, [but] there’s still things we’ll watch film on. … We’ll watch film and there’ll be things that we know we didn’t do as well, things we can do better 10 out of 10 times instead of nine out of 10,” Ingles added. “Obviously, we’re a confident team and we’re confident in the style that we play. We’re going to miss shots, we’re going to make shots at times, but I think our defense has been pretty consistent — obviously, tonight it was. And we were able to make shots, as well. When we’re going on both ends, we’re a tough team to play against.”

Mitchell concurred, saying that while appreciative of the praise from Kerr, he was not ready to go along with such lofty comparisons after an eight-game winning streak.

“We have our spurts and moments. … But we have a ways to go — in a good way. We’re really doing a lot of things the right way, but there’s things we can do better,” he said. “… That’s definitely a compliment, but the biggest thing is for us to just focus on what we do. We’re not trying to replicate what they did in Golden State. We haven’t even gotten past the second round. … It’s a huge compliment coming from coach Kerr for sure, but we’re looking at it as taking it game by game, step by step, little by little. It’s a long season — we’ve only played 16 games, and anything could happen. So we’ve got to stay locked in and stay where we’re at. And with that, with the little details, success will come.”

JAZZ 127, WARRIORS 108

Key moment • Pretty much the Jazz’s first five possessions of the game — a Royce O’Neale 3, back-to-back Mike Conley 3s, a Rudy Gobert layup, and another O’Neale 3 that gave the Jazz a 14-0 lead.

Big number: 8 • While Bojan Bogdanovic struggled with his shot again (going 3 for 13), he made up for it with a career-high eight assists.

Up next • There are two days off coming up, after which the homestead will continue with the Knicks visiting Vivint Arena on Tuesday, with tipoff set for 7 p.m.

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