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The Utah Jazz are the talk of the NBA.
Funny how a 10-game winning streak will do that.
They have won those games by beating top contenders and bottom-dwelling dregs and all sorts of teams in between. They’ve prevailed by an average of 15.3 points. All but their 109-105 win at Denver on Jan. 17 was by double digits. And, per multiple outlets, they’ve trailed in the fourth quarter for a combined total of 57 seconds during the stretch.
In true “never too high, never too low” fashion, though, while they’re pleased with their play during this stretch, they’re not ascribing too much importance to it.
“It’s exciting, but it’s really early in the season,” said Rudy Gobert. “Our goal is obviously to be one of the best teams in the league, [but also] it’s really to be ready for the playoffs.”
The Jazz’s newfound balance is perhaps an indication that they’re on their way.
CURRENT JAZZ WINNING STREAK
Jan. 8, at Milwaukee • Jazz 131, Bucks 118
Jan. 10, at Detroit • Jazz 96, Pistons 86
Jan. 12, at Cleveland • Jazz 117, Cavaliers 87
Jan. 15, vs. Atlanta • Jazz 116, Hawks 92
Jan. 17, at Denver • Jazz 109, Nuggets 105
Jan. 19, vs. New Orleans • Jazz 118, Pelicans 102
Jan. 21, vs. New Orleans • Jazz 129, Pelicans 118
Jan. 23, vs. Golden State • Jazz 127, Warriors 108
Jan. 26, vs. New York • Jazz 108, Knicks 94
Jan. 27 • vs. Dallas • Jazz 116, Mavericks 104
After overhauling their roster a year ago to add more firepower, Utah indeed became one of the league’s elite scoring teams, but simultaneously saw its three-year run of being a top-three defense come to an end, as the team fell out of the top 10 on that side of the ball.
Through Wednesday’s slate of games, however, the Jazz were ranked fourth in offensive rating (114.2 points per 100 possessions) and third in defensive rating (106.7).
They were the only team in the league to reside in the top five of each.
Jordan Clarkson said the Jazz were still working to “create our identity — getting up the floor, playing fast, defending, shooting 3s, getting in the paint,” and added that the biggest factor in the team’s success of late was “trying to have no slack” on the defensive end.
And indeed, coach Quin Snyder said the players now appear fully invested in their success there.
“We’ve worked at it, and we’ve worked at it over time. I think probably the biggest thing is, after you work on something, the time that you invest in it continues to become more and more important and it’s something you take pride in,” Snyder said.
Gobert, naturally, agreed with putting the importance there.
“The number one thing is that when we think defensive-minded, we are successful,” Gobert said. “When we start thinking about offense too much, we tend to forget about the defense and then everything goes not as good.”
So then, the question becomes, exactly how good can this team become?
One interesting viewpoint, notwithstanding how impressive this streak has been, considering it’s vaulted the Jazz to the top of the NBA standings a quarter of the way through this 72-game season and all, is that it presently rates as only tied for the eighth-longest winning streak in franchise history.
In fact, last year’s manically up-and-down Jazz team even rolled off a 10-game winning streak. This one, which began Jan. 8 in Milwaukee, has a ways to go yet to match the team record of 15 consecutive victories — which the Jazz managed twice during the 1996-97 season alone.
JAZZ’S LONGEST WINNING STREAKS
15 • March 12-April 11, 1997
15 • Nov. 13-Dec. 10, 1996
14 • Jan. 7-Feb. 1, 1995
12 • Feb. 11-March 10, 2009
11 • Jan. 24-Feb. 14, 2018
11 • April 1-18, 1999
11 • Feb. 26-March 16, 1998
10 • Jan. 8, 2021 - present
10 • Dec. 26, 2019-Jan. 14, 2020
10 • Jan. 18-Feb. 6, 2008
10 • Feb. 19-March 8, 1994
10 • Jan. 14-Feb. 1, 1978
Can the Jazz get there? Can they set a new team standard for excellence?
It would be difficult, but it might be possible.
For starters, Utah will have a rematch Friday night at Vivint Arena against the Mavericks, who figure to be much-improved from Wednesday’s performance. Perhaps the stiffest test would come in the next game, though, as the Jazz head back to Denver to face the rival Nuggets in a Sunday matinee.
Should the Jazz pull that one off, they’d be in prime position to tie the 15-in-a-row mark, as their next three are against the Pistons, Hawks and Hornets, respectively, none of whom are above .500 at the moment. If all of that goes right, with no hiccups or slip-ups, the Jazz would still need to then get by the Indiana Pacers — presently third in the East — to set the new mark.
Naturally, no one is thinking that far ahead.
The immediate goal, as always, is to remain in the moment and focus on incremental progress. In that respect, the only streak of concern to Utah’s players is improving a bit every single day.
“I don’t even think we’re looking at the record right now. The biggest thing for us is just focusing on getting better each and every day,” Clarkson said. “Moving the ball, getting better defensively, still communicating, still pushing the ball — we’re just trying to find every little thing that we can do to get better; the smaller details, just everything.
“We’re just in a flow right now, we need to continue to play hard, and staying aggressive, and not even worry about the record, where we place, or anything,” he added. “We’re just so focused on ourself and what our goal is in terms of getting better every day. That’s where our mindset is.”