This may sound odd, but it was the Lakers.
Still, a seven-point Jazz win over a team many picked to win the NBA title this season — as turmoil-filled and Steve Nash-less as they are — is worth note. Given that the victory marked Utah's fourth in 11 games away from home this season, perhaps it's a springboard for better things looking ahead in this mediocre season thus far.
Guards: Mo Williams (22 points, nine assists and just one turnover) gave his finest performance in quite a while, given that his assist-to-turnover ratio was his best of the season with at least one miscue. In the two contests he hadn't committed any, one he shot just 5-of-14 with five assists (Nov. 16 at Philadelphia) and the other he played just eight minutes before exiting due to injury (Nov. 23 against Sacramento). He also shot 8-of-11 Sunday — separating himself from Laker counterpart Chris Duhon, whose assist-to-turnover ratio (11-to-2) was also fantastic, but he was less of an offensive threat (12 points). Too bad Randy Foye (seven points on 3-of-10 shooting, two turnovers) didn't come close to reflecting Mo Williams' evening. He did help in slowing down Kobe Bryant — well, a bit (34 points but on 9-of-24 shooting). Bryant made just one of his last six field goal attempts — including an 0-of-3 showing beyond the arc.
Forwards: Paul Millsap (24 points on 9-of-18 shooting, nine rebounds) competed with Mo Williams for the player of the game, especially since opponent Antawn Jamison (three points on 1-of-6 shooting, three turnovers) struggled so mightily. Millsap's point total marked his highest since scoring 34 in a triple-overtime Nov. 12 at Toronto, and was his highest this season in regulation. Marvin Williams (seven points on 3-of-4 shooting, three rebounds) was solid offensively given his chances, though Metta World Peace (12 points on 5-of-7 shooting) did damage. Marvin Williams' 75 percent shooting percentage marked his highest of the season, and he has attempted at least four shot attempt in every contest he's played in this year.
Centers: If Al Jefferson (14 points, 11 rebounds) shoots 6-of-11 in a game, he ought to usually receive more attempts. (That goes for most of the time, given that he shoots better than 48 percent from the field — better than Millsap or injured Derrick Favors.) Then again, Al played just 30 minutes Sunday — three below his average — as Enes Kanter (14 points on 6-of-8 shooting, six rebounds, 18 minutes) was superb. Kanter has scored 14 or 18 points in three of the past six contests after scoring in single digits in 15 of 16 games going back to the start of the regular season. Big Al's point total tied for his second-lowest of the season and the fewest since a four-point total in a Nov. 9 blowout loss at Denver. Los Angeles' Dwight Howard (5-of-10 shooting) really should've tallied more shot attempts in 42 minutes. His point total was the fewest in eight games, going back to a seven-point outing in a Nov. 23 loss at Memphis. He also didn't score in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter. Though he already averages 11.5 rebounds per game, his 16 boards Sunday were actually his third-lowest in the past seven contests. (Then again, he has ripped 15, 18 and 20 rebounds in the past week-plus.)
Bench: Kanter led the way, but Gordon Hayward (14 points, 30 minutes) and DeMarre Carroll (10 points on 4-of-7 shooting) were solid, too. By fouling out, Carroll probably limited himself to 20 minutes — quite a statement for a previously fringe NBA player coming into the season. Hayward's 5-of-6 shooting effort from free throw line makes him 22-of-24 in his past five outings, while Carroll has shot 12-of-19 in the past four contests. The fourth-year pro has also played 19 or more minutes in eight straight games after playing 16 or less in the previous three.
Overall, the Jazz bench outscored the Los Angeles reserves 43-33. Efforts from the Lakers' Jordan Hill (17 points and nine rebounds — about 11 and four above his average, respectively) and Jodie Meeks (16 points, nearly 10 above his average) helped their team hang with Utah.
Overall: It must be stressed again that beating this still-fluid and gel-less Laker squad certainly isn't as big as, well, Metta World Peace. But when Utah had registered a 3-7 road record this season, the victory must be used as a momentum-builder. The Jazz shot 54 percent from the field and — perhaps even more impressive — committed nine turnovers. And they were Derrick Favors-less again. And they held their own in a fourth quarter where one would have thought Bryant and the Lakers were primed for a run that would put them over the top.
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