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Utah Jazz: Devin Harris playing up to potential of late

Published: Friday, April 20 2012 7:09 p.m. MDT

Related article: Replay of the live chat with beat writer Jody Genessy

SALT LAKE CITY — During the All-Star break, Devin Harris took a much-needed reprieve from basketball.

His job is based in Utah. He lives in Dallas. He's from Milwaukee. But Harris went to Los Angeles with family to get away from the grind.

In that February respite, Harris did some cardio, lifted weights, refocused and recharged himself, and had fun taking his mind off a rather rough personal start to his first "full" season in Utah.

The interesting coincidence is that since that break — especially in recent weeks — Harris has at times resembled the All-Star player he once was.

Utah can only hope that Devin Harris shows up Saturday night against Orlando and over the next three games as the Jazz try to earn a playoff spot — which they will if they win out.

"He's got he ball in this hands most of the time," Jazz assistant coach Sidney Lowe said. "When he's scoring for us, we're pretty tough."

On the verge of being playoff tough even, which means Harris and his team have both come a long way from where they were a year ago.

"At this point of the season (in 2011), we were just playing for pride," Harris said. "Now we're trying to get into the playoffs. It's a little more meaningful games … it's a good feeling."

For months, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said he expected Harris to play up to his potential with Utah once he became comfortable. Corbin cut his starting point guard some slack, figuring it would take time to adapt to his newish team this season after the rough extenuating circumstances and a hamstring injury hampered progress at the end of last season after he was traded to Utah for Deron Williams.

On Friday, about 14 months after that trade was made, Harris was asked about his comfort level with the Jazz and his own play.

Harris, cracking a grin, responded: "How comfortable do I look?"

The obvious answer: Pretty dang comfortable.

That shows in Harris' brighter demeanor to the way he's been snapping the bottoms of nets lately.

"He's coming around," Corbin said. "I think he's turned the corner being aggressive. He's doing a great job for us."

Harris struggled and searched for his place on the team during the first couple of frustrating months. At the time, the Jazz coaching staff has simple advice for him. Attack more. Push the ball. Go, go, go.

"That's his asset: speed," said Lowe, a former NBA point guard.

All the better if being aggressive came in transition, but the Jazz also wanted Harris to get the ball upcourt quickly to allow plenty of time for the offense to go through its sets.

The coaches, according to Lowe, encouraged Harris, "Keep playing. It will come."

Harris' game has been better than ever with the Jazz — and up there at his NBA peak — during April while averaging 17.7 points, 5.7 assists and 45.6 percent shooting from 3-point range.

Harris' pre- and post-All-Star break splits are staggering.

In 31 games before: 9.1 points and 4.5 assists.

In 29 games after: 13.6 points and 5.6 assists.

Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor credited Harris for turning it on and around to become the player the team hoped it would get in that D-Will deal. At the end of last season, O'Connor reminded Harris and Al Jefferson that those two players, the GM and Corbin were the ones who'd be held most accountable in the court of public opinion for the Jazz's success or failure this season.

"He's responsible out there. He's going to get the playing time," O'Connor said. "And after a slow start, he's responded."

Harris has responded with eye-popping performances on a few occasions — the 25-point first half with a career-high six treys in Portland; scoring the game-clinching five points in the third overtime of Utah's grueling win over Dallas; hitting at least three 3-pointers in five of the past eight games.

Jazz backup point guard Jamaal Tinsley has noticed that Harris is playing without worrying about looking over his shoulder.

"Just being comfortable, just getting in a rhythm," Tinsley said. "He came in late last year. He just got a better feel on the guys, just being more aggressive and confident."

Corbin believes the transformation started on the defensive end where the Jazz's transition game gets going. Harris, the coach said, has been a tone-setter with his energy on D.

Also, Lowe said it's obvious Harris' confidence and comfort has increased by the way the point guard has been stopping and popping from beyond the arc on fast breaks on occasion a la John Stockton.

"Sometimes it just happens. Guys hit a point where the game just elevates a little bit," Lowe added. "Maybe it's him feeling a little more comfortable with running what we're doing and knowing when to take shots, knowing when not to take the shots or where shots are coming from (his and others).

"The key thing is," Lowe added, "that he's doing it with a lot of confidence. He's comfortable with it."

After Wednesday's clutch 27-point outing, Harris credited his teammates — from Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap doing their work down low to attract attention, Gordon Hayward improving his outside efficiency and even DeMarre Carroll setting some hard screens.

Time has helped, too.

"Just getting to know the system over time, the more time on the floor, the more comfortable I got," Harris said. "There's still a learning curve there, but obviously I'm making some progress."

Likewise, his playoff-pushing team has as well.

"We've got an opportunity," Harris said, "and we've got to take advantage of it."

If they do, Harris will make his first playoff appearance since 2007 with Dallas and Utah will return after a rare year out.

"Last year, we kind of dwindled away to towards the end, the late part of the season," Harris said. "We knew this organization is known for being in the playoffs every year. This is something they hang their hats on. It's just getting back to that level of expectation."

That goes for the team — and the player.

Related article: Replay of the live chat with beat writer Jody Genessy

Email: jody@desnews.com

Twitter: DJJazzyJody

Blog: Jazzland.blogs.deseretnews.com

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