Utah Jazz: Despite hecklers, Jazz still have some pizazz
NEW ORLEANS — A Hornets' fan group at New Orleans Arena humorously chanted "There's no jazz in Utah!" in an effort to heckle their way into the visitors' heads Monday night.
Had the rowdy bunch wanted to get really personal, it could have gone on about there being no playoffs in Utah this year, either.
But you wouldn't have guessed that judging this game, which overwhelmingly ended in the Jazz's favor, 90-78.
The team from the place oozing with so much jazz it gave the Beehive State its NBA franchise and name three decades ago looked like it was ready for summer vacation.
And the jazzed-up squad from that not-so-jazzy spot out West looked like a team gearing up for a nice playoff run.
For the record, the Hornets have a postseason ahead of them and the Jazz have an early offseason quickly approaching. It just didn't seem that way Monday when New Orleans shot 37.8 percent compared to Utah's 55.2 percent.
"It's really pleasing. It shows the character of the guys in this locker room," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said after Utah won for the second time in four outings. "They're not going to lay it down at any time. They're going to continue to fight, and I'm really pleased to see that at this time of year.."
Surprisingly — then again, maybe not — this was Utah's first victory all season in which it led for the entire game.
The Jazz can thank C.J. Miles, who snapped out of a shooting funk by scoring 10 of his 18 points in the first quarter, along with Devin Harris and Gordon Hayward for a quick start.
Those three combined for 25 first-quarter points — Harris had eight and Hayward added seven — to help build an early 12-point lead and, well, set the strong Jazz tone.
And the rest of the nine-deep team contributed to a balanced victory the rest of the way, with multiple players on this shorthanded squad playing key roles and effective execution happening on both sides of the court.
"It felt like we held control of that game the whole game," Jazz forward Paul Millsap said. "When we do that and don't let up, we're a good team. That's all due to experience and chemistry — all of that is going to come in the future. But I like the way we played tonight."
While the Jazz rolled on offense — with Harris tying Miles for team-scoring honors with 18 points, Millsap adding 16 and Hayward chipping in 14 — Utah's defensive effort was the deciding factor.
Chris Paul wasn't held scoreless as he was in the Hornets' loss to Memphis on Sunday, but the All-NBA point guard was limited to a mediocre night of 15 points and five assists. (Go figure, even without Deron Williams hounding him.)
Three other Hornets hit double figures, but Utah's defense bothered them into missing 46 of their 74 shots.
Corbin loved how Jazz players overall stayed with their guys and how they handled pick-and-roll situations, which has been a thorn in their side all season.
That effort, he believes, can carry over into next season.
"We're playing development and not to go into the playoffs, and they did a really good job of just coming out and playing hard and counting on each other and we're continuing to grow," Corbin said. "That's the most encouraging is that we're getting better at the things that we talk about in practice, the things that we talk about we need to get better at, especially on the defensive end of the floor."
Added Al Jefferson: "We played great defense. I think we did a good job of contesting shots."
To wit, the Jazz finished with eight blocked shots, including three by rookie Derrick Favors and two by Jefferson.
Jefferson was as thrilled as anyone on the team about the win, and he only scored eight points — 11 below his average.
"We took care of the ball and ran the offense. We trusted the offense," Jefferson said. "When (we) play like that, it's kind of hard to beat us."
Unfortunately, that is something the Jazz have not been able to claim very often the last couple of months while falling out of the playoff race, losing their Hall of Fame coach and their team leader.
In beating a playoff team on the road for the second time in a week — including Tuesday's 86-85 win over the Lakers — the Jazz also played with a collective effort (25 assists), enthusiasm and simply had fun.
"That's one of the things that's been missing because of the fact we felt like we weren't going to the playoffs and things were going bad," Miles said.. "We weren't having fun anymore, and it was taking away from the game. We just wanted to play tonight, and you could see it."
Now that they've improved their play, the Jazz (38-43) are bummed they only have one more time to play together — Wednesday's season-finale at home against Denver.
"I kind of hate we only got one game left," Jefferson said. "I wish we had another 10 more."
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