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Philadelphia • Sixers coach Doc Rivers was already impressed by what the Utah Jazz are doing even before they picked his team apart Thursday night.
“They look like last year,” he told reporters assembled at the Wells Fargo Center for pregame media.
It’s a scary thing for upcoming opponents.
Ever since that disastrous loss to a short-handed and, frankly, pretty bad Pelicans team back on Nov. 26, the Jazz have finally started to resemble the contender they were expected to be. During this current six-game winning streak, they’ve averaged 126 points per game, they’ve averaged 21 made 3s per game and shot a ridiculous 46% from beyond the arc during the stretch: [NO: 20-35 (57.1%); POR: 19-46 (41.3%); BOS: 27-51 (52.9%); CLE: 20-48 (41.7%); MIN: 25-54 (46.3%); PHI: 15-40 (37.5%)], and their average margin of victory has been 17.7 points.
Granted, the streak hasn’t been perfect — 130 points allowed to the Celtics (without Jaylen Brown) isn’t ideal. The blown 15-point fourth-quarter lead in Cleveland speaks to the lack-of-focus issues that have popped up too frequently this season. There’s been way too much foul trouble from their big men.
And yet …
This winning streak has also seen the offense get white-hot so quickly that the Jazz can demoralize opponents with incendiary streaks of shot-making. We’ve seen lineup versatility take a step forward with a couple of games of Rudy Gay as a small-ball 5. The team’s guards and wings have taken some steps forward defensively, with Mike Conley saving the game against the Cavs with some brilliant late effort against Darius Garland.
Clearly, there are gonna be doubts about this team until they prove they can win in the playoffs. And that’s fair at this point. But until then, the Jazz keep talking about ignoring the stats, ignoring the rankings, and simply trying to become a more perfect version of themselves. And if they can get better than this, it’s gonna be incredible to watch.
Ever hear the Jazz talk about “point-five decisions?” In effect, if they’re getting stagnant, Quin Snyder wants ’em to speed up their decision-making. Basically, when someone gets the ball, decide what to do with it (shoot, drive, or pass) within 0.5 seconds in order to keep things moving. Along those lines, here are some quick-hitter thoughts from the road trip thus far:
• Cleveland: This city gets a bad rap, but I’ve visited three times in my four seasons on the beat now, and I still enjoy it. This specific stop was further enhanced by the Jazz winning against a Cavaliers team that was actually a fun, energetic, and competitive opponent. I’d be shocked if the Cavs didn’t make the playoffs. Beyond that, I enjoyed my annual pilgrimage to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (particularly the new Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers display), and it’s become an annual tradition for the visiting beat writers to eat a meal at Barrio Tacos.
• Minnesota: First off, when my flight landed and I pulled the plane window shade up at my seat, I was not expecting to see snow on the ground. Also was not expecting the looooow temps. Apparently after I’d previewed the forecast before I left on the trip, an unexpected cold front moved in: as I awoke in Minneapolis on Wednesday morning, it was 3 degrees outside. After some of my fellow beat writers took me out for a nice pre-birthday meal at The News Room restaurant, I spent my actual birthday watching the Jazz avenge last year’s sweep with a blowout of the Wolves, and then, as I was in the media room working on a story about Bojan Bogdanovic’s defense vs. Karl-Anthony Towns, we started getting word of the bizarre postgame comments from Anthony Edwards and Pat Beverley ripping on Rudy Gobert.
• Philadelphia: I’d never been to the City of Brotherly Love before, which is a big reason why I wanted this particular trip (as is Saturday’s stop in the District of Columbia, where I’ve visited, but have never seen a game played). Despite the long day (second halves of back-to-backs on the road are a grind, with the early-morning flights involved), the Rudy Gobert vs. Joel Embiid matchup is always a fun one, and watching the Jazz play the way they did was enjoyable, too. Postgame was entertaining as well, as the team went off on the Wolves for their comments from the night before.
Anyway, after an extra day spent in Philly taking in some sights, procuring myself some new Eagles merch, and wolfing down a cheesesteak or two, I’m grabbing a train to DC on Saturday morning for the trip’s finale against the Wizards, and then flying back home Sunday after what’s felt like a long eight days on the road.