Utah Jazz Show Growth in Weekend Wins

Apr 3, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Utah Jazz forward Trey Lyles (41) handles the ball in front of Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) in the second half at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Utah Jazz won 101 - 86. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 3, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Utah Jazz forward Trey Lyles (41) handles the ball in front of Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) in the second half at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Utah Jazz won 101 - 86. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports /

After a heartbreaking loss to the Golden State Warriors, the Utah Jazz showed development by rebounding with back-to-back wins.

As fans, we tend to get excited by the unlikely win; that upset victory over an elite team or a superstar player. For a club like the Utah Jazz, one that’s fighting to take the next step into the upper echelon of the NBA, they’re the wins that act as validation of the progress that’s being made–a declaration to the world that we’ve arrived.

However, sometimes it’s the small victories that speak loudest.

While the Jazz failed to close out against the history-chasing, 69-8 Golden State Warriors last week, they did what good teams are expected to do over the weekend. They won the games they were supposed to.

Despite an injury to Derrick Favors, they rebounded from Wednesday’s loss with a big win over Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Undermanned, fresh off of the Golden State gut punch and facing a bevy of talented young ballers, the Jazz were able to impose their will on the T-Wolves.

In the game, the team got big performances from the starting five, including rookie Trey Lyles, who scored 18 points in relief of the injured Favors. Mirroring the team itself, Lyles has transformed himself from a not ready for prime time player to a potential star in the league as a playmaking big man.

His and the team’s act continued on Sunday with a win over the Phoenix Suns. After a sluggish start, the Jazz–with Favors back in action–outscored the Suns by a combined 22 points in the final three quarters. Once again, all hands were on deck as the team got contributions from both its key players and the second unit.

Gordon Hayward topped 20 points for the third straight game, a hobbled Favors added 17, Rodney Hood hit six three-pointers and Lyles scored 13 points off the bench.

With the Phoenix win, the Jazz have officially eclipsed their win total from last season with five games still left on the schedule. For a squad that has been decimated by injuries and seemingly plagued by depth issues for most of the year, this is no small feat.

It’s a sure sign of the growth and development the team has undergone this season.

After a slow and steady build, Favors and Hayward have cemented themselves as stars in the league. Favors has quietly been one of the most versatile big men in the Association and a nightly double-double threat. Meanwhile, Hayward has become Mr. Consistent; a virtual lock for a 20-4-4 line even when his shot is failing him.

Following uncertainty over whether he or Alec Burks would start at shooting guard before the season, Hood has grown into a focal point for the Jazz offense. Then there’s Rudy Gobert, who has powered through some difficult stretches to become a more complete player than ever before.

All of this has been supplemented to great effect recently by the play of the rookies, Lyles and Raul Neto, the old standbys–Trevor Booker and Joe Ingles–and the new sheriff in town, Shelvin Mack, who came out of nowhere to drive the Jazz bus like he’s been along for the ride since day one.

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Throw all of this into a stew pot to simmer and you’ve got a team hitting its stride just in time to steal a playoff berth in the Western Conference.

The offense is starting to click in at a high level; over the last five games, the Jazz are eighth in league in offensive rating, scoring just under 109 points per 100 possessions and lead the NBA with an 18.7 net rating. In the same stretch, the team has limited turnovers (12.4 per game) and is hitting from three-point range at a 40 percent clip.

Utah’s defense is on-point as well, matching the elite-level performance after the All-Star break last season. Since March 1, the Jazz have held opponents to 91.9 points per game, which is No. 1 in the league. For the season, the Jazz are tied for sixth with the Miami Heat in defensive rating at 101.5.

“It’s been our calling card all year,” Hayward remarked after the win in Phoenix. “When we play well defensively, we give ourselves a chance.”

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The end result of this development, individually, as a unit and on both sides of the ball, is a team that does what good teams do. It takes care of business against inferior competition. You can win or lose against the upper crust of the Association, but if you don’t beat the teams you’re supposed to, you aren’t going to the playoffs.

While taking down the 25-win Timberwolves and the 20-win Suns may not hold the same allure as stealing an overtime victory from the Warriors would have, it speaks volumes about where the team is and where it could be going.

With more of what we saw in the gimme games over the weekend, and a little luck, that could be the team’s first taste of playoff basketball in four years.

The Jazz resume play on Tuesday in a showdown with the San Antonio Spurs.