Utah Jazz veterans lead by example with tough-guy attitude
Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Some call it spunk. Others explain it as being a swagger.
"Hard-nosed" is a description Paul Millsap likes to use.
The Utah Jazz haven't been brash or engaged in overt trash-talking, but an aura of toughness and confidence is permeating this little team that could.
Winning certainly helps breed those characteristics, and the Jazz have done a whole lot of that lately.
Continuing to defy low expectations from outsiders, Utah, 9-4 after an 0-2 start, climbed up to No. 2 in the Western Conference on Tuesday after successfully completing a 108-79 aerial attack on the Los Angeles Clippers.
The defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks and TNT's broadcast crew are in town Thursday for a late-night showdown (8:30 p.m. MT), giving the surging Jazz yet another chance to build their self-esteem and show how much progress they've made since getting blasted by the Lakers (96-71) in their last nationally televised game.
"We care less about notoriety or being the team to watch," Jazz point guard Earl Watson said. "We just want the Ws."
As much publicity as the Jazz's youth movement has received — and youngsters Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks do offer reason for high hopes — it's the vigorous veterans who've shown they'll stand up to opponents in the way of those wins.
These guys are playing tough and aren't taking guff.
"Earl and Raja (Bell) are two of the veteran guys on this team that are hard players that play physical," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "They're not afraid to put their bodies on guys and a lot of guys don't like that. They have to stand up for themselves. It's great for the young guys to see what kind of tenacity you have to play with to be successful in this league."
Watson has displayed that snarl a few times lately, including Tuesday when the 6-1, 199-pounder went straight after 6-10, 245-pound Trey Thompkins after the rookie gave an extra bump on a screen.
Watson, a 10-year pro, credited coaching great Hubie Brown and ex-NBA standout Gary Payton for instilling that intensity in him early in his career.
"You have to stand up for yourself. Period," Watson said.
Bell showed that spiciness — well, almost always, but especially when the feisty 35-year-old jawed and jostled Kobe Bryant when the Lakers were in town.
While those are isolated incidents, the spit-and-vinegar attitude — sweetened for fans with some stylish offensive play — is taking hold.
With their Swat Lake City shot-blocking attitude (second in the NBA), their basketball thievery (11th) and physicality on defense, the Jazz are rebranding themselves as a tough team.
No-nonsense grumpy-old-men types like Bell, Watson and Josh Howard are setting a not-so-nice (in a good way) example for the kids.
Play hard. Don't back down. See results.
"I wouldn't say 'grumpy old men,' but that's a good statement," the 31-year-old Howard said, chuckling. "(We're) guys that want to win and can't stand losing, so that's a good way of putting it.
"(If) we continue that fire, guys will pick up on it, and there you have it — you're going to have hard-nosed basketball, night in and night out from Utah."
Somewhere Jerry Sloan has gotta be smiling. Or swearing. Either way, his replacement and protégé, Tyrone Corbin, is helping re-establish the attitude the Hall of Fame coach abided by since his tough-as-nails days as an NBA player back in the 1970s.
"I don't know what the swagger is, but I want us to develop an attitude that we're going to compete against everybody every night we're on the floor, every minute we're on the floor and that's who we are," Corbin said. "That's playing by the rules and playing aggressive. We're not a dirty team. We're not looking to hurt anybody. But we're going to play to win."
Hayward agreed that experienced Jazzmen — whom he says play with a chip on their shoulder — have set a tone of toughness.
"Every team needs guys like that to give you a little edge. If something goes down, they're going to be right there to have your back," Hayward said. "We're a tough team. We play defense tough, try to be physical with guys. I think that's the goal — you try to disrupt the other team as much as you can, scrap, do whatever you can to win."
Corbin also appreciates the quiet toughness and example he's getting from his premier post players, Al Jefferson (18 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1.8 bpg) and Millsap (15.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.9 spg).
"They're not big talkers, they're workers. They go out and do their job every night," Corbin said. "They've always worked hard to win, and the guys are following them. We need guys to continue to step up and continue to do their job and everybody follows."
8:30 p.m., TNT
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