BOSTON — Devin Harris smiled when the subject of Utah's struggles against the Boston Celtics in the TD Garden came up.
In their history, the Jazz have only won 11 times in 41 appearances on the legendary parquet and they've lost eight of their last 11 trips there.
Utah's most recent three visits have been particularly rough, with the Celtics winning by an average of 17.3 points. In January 2011 — when Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams were still employed by the Jazz — Boston breezed to a 110-86 laugher.
All of which brings us back to Harris' grin when asked a question about the Jazz's most recent struggles in Boston.
"How can you tell me that when I haven't been here," Harris said, smiling. "You can't tell me 'we' struggled."
Guilty by association?
Actually, Harris makes a fair point.
This Jazz team isn't your father's 2011 Jazz team.
Heck, it's not even your February 2012 Jazz team.
Since that atrocious, sky-is-falling stretch last month when Utah lost 11 of 14 games, Harris & Co. have put together a 12-5 record. Monday's 105-84 win in New Jersey — by far the largest out-of-town margin of victory this season — gave the Jazz seven victories in their last eight outings.
They're trending well. They certainly aren't playing like a team that has a dismal 8-17 road record.
To Harris' point, this is a new team — one that is playing much better team ball than the Jazz club that struggled last month, not to mention toward the end of the Sloan/D-Will Era when it last lost in Beantown.
Center Al Jefferson can vouch for that.
For him, the way the Jazz responded after the quadruple-overtime loss in Atlanta was telling.
This team wants to make the playoffs badly, and it's trying hard to move on quickly from disappointing defeats or bad performances and build on its successes. That's why the Jazz didn't panic after Williams and the Nets quickly turned a 22-point Utah lead into a three-point edge Monday night.
Jefferson, Harris, Paul Millsap et. al just got back to work.
"Right now, it's all about business. Every game counts for us," Jefferson said. "The old Jazz would have put our head down, let them got away with the game, but this will show you where we playing right now.
"To bounce back from (Sunday) night and when they made their run to cut it to three we still stayed on what we were doing and took over the game and controlled the game. That just show you how much we have (grown) as a team."
And what a different team this is than the one that got blown out by Boston 14 months ago.
Jefferson and Millsap are still contributing in big ways for the Jazz, but now Utah also relies on guys who weren't here back then like Harris, Alec Burks, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and lately even Jamaal Tinsley and DeMarre Carroll. Gordon Hayward and C.J. Miles are contributing more now than they did a year ago as well.
"That's what's so special about this team," Jefferson said. "We've got guys who can play from the bench to the starters."
They're playing well heading into their latest big test tonight against a Boston team that is tied with Philadelphia for the Atlantic Division lead.
"Our confidence levels (are) up right now," Millsap said. "We feel like we can compete and play anybody in this league, so hopefully it will be a different story. We'll come out and be the team that we know we are."
That is a team that's on the rise.
One that can almost count on offensive production from Jefferson and Millsap like clockwork.
A squad that has won its way back into the playoff mix by getting revolving shining games from Hayward, Favors, Harris, Burks, Miles, Earl Watson and Jamaal Tinsley.
Coach Tyrone Corbin's club is playing well together as a unit more often than not now on both ends of the court, with noticeable improvements in trust, help and rotations on defense and more fluidity, execution and transition opportunities on offense.
"Every one of our wins is a team win," Jefferson said. "We don't have a Kobe Bryant or LeBron James on this team, so we're at our best when we play together."
That is precisely what it will take for the Jazz to snap out of its Boston funk and continue to emerge as not only a playoff team but a postseason threat.
"We've got to stay focused," Corbin said.
Jefferson, who began his NBA career in Boston from 2004-07, knows the Garden can be an intimidating place for visitors. But he likes the moxie his team has going into his old stomping grounds.
"We've just got to go out there and play the way we've been playing and don't be afraid of the Celtics," Jefferson said. "They're a great team, but at the end of the day we all grown men out here and we've just got to go out and play the way we've been playing, and I think we'll put ourselves in a position to win the game."1 comment on this story
Big Al and Harris said it's important for the Jazz to come out aggressively.
"Every win is important for us," Harris said. "We've got to continue to play well like we do on the road. ... Hopefully, it will work out for the best.."
If Harris is smiling after the game and saying told-you-so, you'll know it has.