Deseret News archives,
OAKLAND, Calif. — Comparing their season-opening, back-to-back blowout losses with recent dominating outings, some might say the Utah Jazz have gone from looking like chopped liver to prime rib.
But if you'd prefer using one of their coach's culinary metaphors, you could say their much-improved, free-flowing, potent offense now looks like a steaming Idaho baked potato loaded with butter, sour cream and all of the tasty toppings.
Either way, what the Jazz served up against Oklahoma City and Toronto was more appetizing than the lumpy squashed spuds they dished out in the Denver and Phoenix games.
That's easy to observe on the court and in box scores, and it'll probably need to continue that way tonight against the high-powered Golden State Warriors.
"Our spacing's better, timing's better, we're setting better screens," Jazz point guard Deron William said. "The first couple of games, we were missing screens. We were out of position. We just looked like mashed potatoes, as coach would say."
Their offense is all gravy now.
In last week's setbacks, the Jazz averaged just 91 points on 40.9 percent shooting and an uncharacteristically low 20 assists. They also lost to the Nuggets and Suns by an average of 19 points.
Since rededicating and re-energizing themselves, the new-look Jazz have shown a new yet familiar game. In consecutive victories, they've averaged 122.5 points on 54.8 percent shooting and an efficiency-boosting 31 assists a game.
And get this polar-opposite tidbit: They beat the Thunder and Raptors by an average of, yep, 19 points.
"We had to get going," Williams said. "There was a little sense of urgency."
The All-Star playmaker, in Jazz coach Jerry Sloan's estimation, deserves credit for helping the revamped team look more meshed than mashed. In Utah's two wins, Williams has averaged 14.5 assists compared to just 6.0 apg in the two losses and is making an effort to push the Jazz tempo.
"Deron's done a great job getting us in our offense and executing and moving hard off of it," Sloan said. "I think that's helped everybody."
The Jazz have also benefited from more active defensive efforts, better shot selection, crisper passing and improved familiarity with the system.
The result has been a monster of an offense, which is getting fast-break buckets and highlight-reel dunks, strong inside and mid-range play by big men Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, and momentum-building 3-pointers from the likes of C.J. Miles.
"It's fun right now," Williams said. "We're getting out and running, having more confidence, and guys are shooting better."
Andrei Kirilenko said Wednesday's game gave prime examples of what the Jazz offense should and should not do.
They were executing and doing all of the right things in the first half while taking a 19-point lead into halftime. Then the offense sputtered and got stagnant, players watched the pick-and-roll instead of moving, and the Raptors rallied to within two points before the Jazz snapped out of their funk.
"When you're not executing (the offense), you can't pass it because everybody's staying with their man," Kirilenko explained. "When you move, setting good screens, get the people to help on the big guy, it frees the other guys."
That motion, proper positioning and the space-opening use of picks and extra passes sets up good looks.
It also helps that Jefferson and other newcomers are getting a grasp of the offense alongside Williams and Millsap, who's also started the season with a bang. The Minnesota transplant Jefferson has had offensive outputs of 20, 23 and 27 points since opening with a disappointing six-point stinker in Denver.
"It's getting even better and better by the day," Jefferson said. "I'm learning to read (Williams). I'm learning to know if he do one thing, I do this. It's coming along really easy, but it still has some ways to go."
Sloan admitted that, too, but at least the Jazz have been winning while taking some learning lumps and are no longer getting smashed. The Hall of Fame coach called it "refreshing" how Utah played even better at times in Wednesday's win than in Sunday's road rout at OKC.
A new challenge will present itself tonight when the 2-2 Jazz face the run-and-gun 3-1 Warriors' squad that averages 109.8 points. Utah will try to fight offensive fire with a fiery offensive efficiency.
"We have to push the ball, see if we can get a layup," Sloan said. "If that's not there, try to execute our offense. I have a lot of confidence in our guys when we get in the half-court game. If we pass, set screens, we get good shots."
And that's the recipe for not making yourself into mashed potatoes.
Jazz on the air
Utah (2-2) at Golden State (3-1)
Tonight, 8:30 p.m.
Oracle Arena, Oakland, Calif.
TV: FSN Utah
Radio: 1320 AM, 98.7 FM, 1600 AM
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