It is exciting. It’s always exciting to win. —Jazz center Derrick Favors
SALT LAKE CITY — This kind of performance is not in the tanking handbook.
And especially not after earning a road win Saturday and picking up a thrilling overtime victory a week ago.
If the Utah Jazz continue playing the kind of solid basketball that was on full display during an impressive 109-103 win over the Houston Rockets on Monday, a #tankingfail hashtag might start trending on Twitter.
And the re-energized Jazz, who’ve won two straight games and three of four, would love nothing more than that.
“It is exciting,” Jazz center Derrick Favors said. “It’s always exciting to win.”
Even more exciting when the team takes down a surging Rockets squad that had won five straight and had already won once at EnergySolutions Arena this season.
Remember the way the Jazz played during that 1-14 start? Including that humiliating 104-93 loss to these Rockets after leading by 19 points?
That was so November.
“We didn’t play well,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said after his team fell to 13-6. “They played better than we did.”
They played better than they had all season, too, while improving to 4-15.
Two nights after beating the Suns 112-104 in Phoenix, the Jazz came out with what was undoubtedly their best outing of the season — from their offensive execution to the clutch play of a handful of players.
“It was good for us to get that win,” Jazz shooting guard Gordon Hayward said. “We let that other one slip like we talked about this morning (at shootaround). It came down to the wire; we had a lead; and we let it go. I think it shows the growth of our team to stay poised, stay calm and still win a basketball game.”
As a team, the Jazz, no longer playing like the worst offense in the NBA, had their top shooting night of the fall overall (.544) and from 3-point territory (.588).
Hayward, taking advantage of injured Chandler Parsons’ absence, busted his frustrating slump with a season-high 29 points on 12-of-18 shooting. The Jazz shooting guard scored 17 points to help Utah take an early 14-point lead, setting the tone for the contest.
“He was the key,” Rockets guard James Harden said after scoring a game-high 37 points.
Not the only key, though.
Reserve guard Alec Burks played with a confident flair and fire off the bench, contributing 21 points while hitting 7 of 11 shots.
Favors hit all six of his field goal attempts and both free throws for a strong 14 points and 13 rebounds, outplaying All-Star Dwight Howard.
And then there was the cool and smooth basketball game played by emerging Trey Burke, a confident point guard who’s seemingly progressing every time he steps on the court. The rookie, in just his seventh pro game, registered career highs with 21 points and six assists.
“Trey does a good job finding guys and just making plays for himself and making plays for other guys,” Favors said. “He’s fun to play with.”
Burke had several heads-up plays down the stretch, including a layup that gave the Jazz a 99-96 lead after an Aaron Brooks 3-pointer. That bucket sparked a surprisingly clutch 12-7 game-clinching finish for Utah.
One of the night’s best plays came a moment later. Burke was driving under the hoop while being overshadowed by 6-11 Howard when he zipped a pass beyond the arc to Hayward, who immediately flung it over to a wide-open Marvin Williams for a 3-point splash and 108-100 lead with a minute to go.
That riled up the generously announced crowd of 15,801.
“Everybody’s developing a chemistry,” Favors said. “Everybody’s sharing the ball. We’re just playing as a team, playing unselfish on the offensive end and on the defensive end, and it’s showing off in the game.”
It was especially satisfying for Corbin to see that some of the young players, who’ve been given opportunities to flourish this season, came through with another stellar showing.
“It’s great, man. This is what we talked about right from the beginning for them to get the experience,” Corbin said. “The only way to get this lesson is to go through it and they’re going through it. It’s good to see them have success doing it.”
NOTES: Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin (knee) and Parsons (back spasms) both missed this game after leading Houston to a win in Utah on Nov. 2. ... Howard was outplayed by Favors, finishing with just 15 points and nine rebounds. ... The Jazz hit 10 of 17 3-pointers and shot better than 50 percent from the field for the second game in a row. ... Utah hosts Indiana, the best team in the NBA, on Wednesday.