Utah Jazz: Al Jefferson becoming integral part of successful road recipe
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Somewhere between Texas and Ohio — between their loss at Dallas and their win at Cleveland earlier this week — the Utah Jazz found the secret formula for success on the road.
Turns out, Al Jefferson just needs to lead the team in scoring, rebounds and assists.
Jefferson topped the Jazz in those statistical categories like he did two nights earlier, finishing with 31 points, nine rebounds and five assists to carry Utah to a 99-93 win over the Charlotte Bobcats at Time Warner Cable Arena.
"Everything was just flowing for me tonight. Most important the defense was good, team defense," Jefferson said. "My teammates trusted me with the ball. I made good passes, got them shots, so everything was just clicking well tonight."
Nothing has quite clicked lately like the 6-foot-10 center.
Jefferson's performances helped the Jazz pick up two consecutive road victories for only the second time this season. His standout showings also helped Utah improve to .500 again at 19-19.
His play has also spawned some nickname creativity from teammates.
Guard Earl Watson jokingly called Jefferson "Triple Threat" after Monday's well-rounded game, and fellow starter Devin Harris chimed in with one after Wednesday's win.
"Magic Johnson, baby. Magic Johnson," Harris said, smiling. "He was great tonight. Great low-post threat. He made the passes when they double-teamed him. He played a great all-around game."
Much of his best work came at the expense of Charlotte rookie Bismack Biyombo. The 6-foot-9 rookie had a terrific 15-rebound, seven-block game against Dwight Howard in the Bobcats' surprising win over the Magic on Tuesday, but the 19-year-old from Congo wasn't so fortunate against Jefferson.
"I guarantee the next time I play (him), it won't be as easy as it was tonight," Jefferson said. "If he anything like me, he hold grudges, he remember."
The thing Biyombo should remember most against Jefferson is that the Jazz center has a knack for fooling defenders when he's about 15 feet from the basket.
"He didn't know about the ball fakes," Jefferson said, chuckling. "I think that's what it was. It was working for me tonight. I just took my time on the offense. My jump shot was going in and my jump hook was going in."
Jefferson ended up shooting 11-for-19 from the field, although he did get one dunk blocked. Even better was his passing, which helped clear space after he dished out four first-quarter assists.
"It took eight years for me to realize if I pass the ball out and guys hit shots it open me up," Jefferson said. "So, I guess better late than never."
Jefferson scored nine points in the pivotal third quarter in which the Jazz turned a 51-47 halftime lead into a 20-point advantage.
"That's who he is. We go through him," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We need him to make the right plays."
Jefferson had plenty of support on this night.
Paul Millsap scored 16 points. Derrick Favors had a strong game with 14 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots. Josh Howard chipped in with a dozen points and three steals, playing in his home state.
Harris (nine points) and Gordon Hayward (eight points, six boards, four assists) had their moments, too.
"We're heading in the right direction," Harris said after playing 24 minutes with a somewhat sore sprained right knee. "The effort was there."
Their coach agreed with that. But Corbin admitted it wasn't a perfect game.
The Jazz didn't establish the tempo early on as they wanted to against the five-win Bobcats. They took a few too many early jumpers instead of playing inside-out. They even let Charlotte get within single digits with almost four minutes remaining after holding an 82-64 lead early in the fourth quarter.
"We didn't play one of our better games," Corbin said. "But we did enough to win the game, and that's the most important thing."
Now the Jazz enter the roughest part of their longest road trip of the season with back-to-back games at Philadelphia (Friday) and Chicago (Saturday).
Though he can find things to nitpick about like all coaches, Corbin likes the way his team has responded overall ever since they found themselves trailing by 23 points Saturday night in Dallas.
The Jazz roared back to within five points before falling 102-96, which at the time was their sixth road loss in a row.
"We ended up losing that game, but I think it helped us propel ourselves as we went forward to understand what it's going to take in the second half to be effective on the road," Corbin said. "And that's two good wins for us. We've got to keep it going because Philly and Chicago (are) looking right at us, so we've got to be ready to go."
Got that, Big Magic Johnson Triple Threat Al?
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