Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Hey, if the Utah Jazz can beat the defending NBA champion Miami Heat, then they oughta be able to beat anybody, right?
But wait just a minute. Utah somehow found a way to lose to New Orleans, Phoenix and Sacramento — the three worst teams in the Western Conference this season — so maybe the Jazz really aren't that great after all.
This, sorry to say, is also true.
So, come on, just how good is this Jazz team?
The truth, it seems, lies somewhere in between.
Thanks to that stirring, almost-gave-it-away victory over the Heat, the Jazz will take a 21-19 record into Saturday's game against Cleveland, which also marks precisely the midway point of Utah's 2012-13 regular-season campaign.
Of course, if we broke out that well-worn line about "if the playoffs started today " — the Jazz would be on the outside looking in, sitting just outside the top eight teams in the West.
But, thankfully for Jazz fans, the playoffs are still more than three months away — plenty of time to make up ground from a first half of the season that would qualify as wildly inconsistent, yet not entirely disappointing.
After all, the Jazz have won four of their last five games and six of their last eight, with three of those six wins coming on the road.
And there have definitely been some bumps and chuckholes along the way.
First, the Jazz couldn't win on the road, but they were invincible at home. Then they finally started to win some road games, and promptly lost three in a row at home during December.
Then starting point guard Mo Williams went down with an injured thumb that required surgery, sidelining the feisty floor leader until at least late March.
But now, with a home-heavy schedule awaiting them over the next six weeks — 14 of their next 19 games will be played at EnergySolutions Arena, where the Jazz are 12-4 (and only six teams in the league have a better home-court record than Utah's) — it's time to make their move.
Houston and Portland, the two teams that sit right above Utah in the current Western Conference standings, have been struggling lately. The Rockets had lost four straight and the Trail Blazers had suffered three setbacks in a row going into Wednesday night's action, meaning the Jazz are well within striking distance of jumping up into the seventh spot in the West.
The key for Utah, though, will be to find some measure of consistency — something that has been sorely lacking through their first 40 games.
Despite his defensive shortcomings, big man Al Jefferson remains the team's most dependable scorer (17.4 points per game) and best rebounder (9.8 per game), and it isn't even close. Old reliable, veteran forward Paul Millsap contributes 14.9 points and 7.7 boards a night despite all those trade rumors that have hounded him for the last couple of years.
A possible trade of one of these two valuable bigs looms over Utah's future like an annoying wintry weather inversion.
Third-year shooting guard Gordon Hayward (13.7 ppg) is starting to play like a lottery pick, and the only thing missing is for him to do it every night on a more consistent — yep, there's that word again — basis.
Mo Williams was averaging 12.9 points and 6.7 assists per game before being forced to sit out, and newcomer Randy Foye (11.1 ppg) is Utah's best 3-point shooting threat — something this franchise hasn't had for quite awhile.
Many fans and media members have been clamoring for promising young big man Derrick Favors (8.5 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game) to get more playing time, and he has — with mixed results — but still not enough time on the floor to suit most folks who reside in that camp.
Marvin Williams (8.8 ppg), Enes Kanter (6.2 ppg), and DeMarre Carroll (5.5 ppg) have all had their moments; Alec Burks (5.5 ppg) tantalizes us with his talent and occasional flashes of brilliance, and the veteran twosome of Jamaal Tinsley and Earl Watson have split playing time at point guard and filled in admirably in Mo Williams' absence.
Head coach Tyrone Corbin continues to grow into the job that was thrust upon him when the venerable Jerry Sloan abruptly walked away in 2011. Corbin won't ever be as intensely competitive as Sloan was, but there's no doubt that Ty wants to win ballgames just as badly as his old boss did.
Now, he just needs his team to completely buy into what he's selling and take the court every night with the energy, desire, enthusiasm and determination needed to be successful in this league.
Do that, for 48 minutes night in and night out, and the wins will surely follow.
Take a night off, or even a quarter or two, and inconsistency will become your most glaring weakness.
Just look at the Utah Jazz, and their 2012-13 regular-season performance thus far, as proof.
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