Utah Jazz: Mike Conley leads the way in bounce back week

The Utah Jazz snapped their five game cold steak and won two of their three games this week. What do they need to accomplish before the All-Star break?

At this time a week ago, the Utah Jazz were free falling from the top echelon of the NBA. They were reeling off five bad losses and a complete defensive breakdown on the perimeter.

Now they have finally stopped the bleeding. They were able to win against the Portland Trail-Blazers off a controversial block in the finals seconds of the game, and won a thriller against the Houston Rockets last night.

Some Jazz fans are still concerned this team is still broken, and note the two latest wins had a lot of luck involved.

There were several key players missing for the Portland Trail-Blazers, and the Houston Rockets were without their best bench player in Eric Gordon.

The Trail-Blazers were on the back end of a back-to-back, and the Rockets were playing their third game in four nights when the Jazz came into town.

If the Utah Jazz are really a top three team in the Western Conference, than these games shouldn’t have been so close and required some late game luck.

The other way to look at the two wins is a more positive angle. The Jazz were trailing throughout the majority of both games, but found a way to come back and win thanks to strong third quarter performances.

They did it with their best offensive player, Donovan Mitchell, going through a funk of his own. Mitchell averaged 19.5 points on 21 shots per game this past week, and has been getting to the foul line about half as often as he normally does.

However you choose to look at it, two wins is sure nice to add to the win column.

Mike Conley was absolutely key to this bounce back week. Since being reinserted back in the starting lineup, he’s produced at least 20 points every game (except versus Portland when he scored 18).

He’s been more willing to attack the rim and get his own basket or draw the foul. Earlier in the season, Conley seemed afraid to shoot anything other than three pointers, so it’s great to see him getting shots all over the court.

Another player who refuses to cool off is Jordan Clarkson. Since the Jazz lost to the Houston Rockets, Clarkson has been averaging 19.4 points on 53 percent shooting from the field and 45 percent shooting from deep.

Clarkson has also been one of the few Jazz players able to penetrate the paint and create layups and/or free throw attempts. It’s hard to blame him for taking so many shots and kind of being a ball hog when his shots keep falling at this rate.

As far as intangibles, Clarkson has been great with his attitude. He was supposed to check in for the final minutes of last night’s game against the Rockets, but he chose to sit since the five man group on the floor was getting stops and making shots.

He was also featured on a video about the Taguig Tenement in the Manila, Philippines area. Through a small sample size of 21 games in a Jazz uniform, he’s given Jazz Nation a big incentive to re-sign him this offseason.

In the midst of this crazy week, the Jazz stood pat at the trade deadline. They watched as other contending teams added talent, which will surely make the rich even richer in the playoffs.

How did this crazy week affect Utah’s spot in power rankings?

 

Power Rankings by week (second half of regular season)

ESPN: 5th, 3rd, 8th, 9th

CBS Sports: 4th, 4th, 10th, 8th

NBA.com: 3rd, 3rd, 7th, 7th 

Bleacher Report: 3rd, 3rd, 8th, 10th

Sports Illustrated: 6th, 5th, 8th, 7th

Hoops Habit: 7th, 6th, 8th, 9th

 

Notable Quotes:

Via John Schumann of NBA.com:

“The Jazz have a worse point differential, both per game and per 100 possessions, than they did last season. But, after going 15-18 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes last season, they’re 21-10 this season. That’s the league’s biggest jump in clutch winning percentage.”

Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com:

“Since returning to the starting lineup, Mike Conley has looked like the point guard the Jazz expected to get when they shipped three players and a pair of first-round picks to the Grizzlies for him. Conley has averaged 20.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists with a true shooting percentage of 59.8 in those four games. The problem: He is the only Jazz starter with a positive plus-minus in that stretch.”

Keys to a successful week:

The Utah Jazz will have two games before their nine day All-Star break takes place. Tonight they face the Dallas Mavericks sans Luka Doncic with an opportunity to clinch the season series.

This will still be a tough task despite the Mavs not having their best player. When Doncic sat out four games in December, Dallas still found a way to knock off the Bucks and 76ers on the road. They are still a dangerous team without Doncic.

Then on Wednesday night the Jazz host the Miami Heat in Salt Lake City. The Heat were able to add Andre Iguodala and former Jazzman Jae Crowder at the trade deadline, and will no doubt be a good test for the Jazz.

Miami is on pace to win 53 games thanks to the leadership of Jimmy Butler. Jimmy G has set the tone from day one, putting in work at the gym during odd hours of the night and leading this team to a legitimate shot at the East’s crown.

The last time the Jazz played both the Heat and the Mavs, they found themselves in intense fourth quarters with a chance to win big. They prevailed against the Mavericks thanks to clutch defense by Rudy Gobert, but fell short against the Heat in South Beach.

Next: Utah Jazz: The ten most golden moments in franchise history

A successful week will include two wins and all the right momentum heading into the All-Star break. As long as they don’t get embarrassed by either of these teams I’ll be willing to accept a 1-1 week as well.

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