Utah Jazz: Alec Burks shines in understudy role as Jazz storm past Nuggets
SALT LAKE CITY — When it became official that Gordon Hayward wasn’t going to play Monday, some jokes and presumably playful accusations started flying around Jazzland.
The general gist was that, well, of course the Utah Jazz’s leading scorer wasn’t going to play after missing Friday’s contest with a hip injury.
This is the season of tanking, right?
Every regular-season loss is a lottery win, isn’t it?
The Jazz were indeed smiling after Monday’s game, but they weren’t in on the joke.
In somewhat of a surprise, Utah enjoyed one of its strongest offensive outputs of the season in a 118-103 win over the previously red-hot Denver Nuggets.
“Nobody wants to see nobody go down,” Jazz center Derrick Favors said. “But at the same time, guys have to step up when that happens.”
And that stepping up happened on this particular night.
The Jazz, now 13-26, did it despite Hayward’s absence.
They did it in spite of the ramifications winning games might do to damage their chances of securing one of the top picks of the hyped 2014 NBA draft.
Go ahead and credit — or blame, you choose — Hayward’s understudy for sparking the team to an unlikely blowout victory over a Denver team that had won five straight games in impressive fashion.
Alec Burks had the best game of his NBA life after starting for the second game in a row for the sidelined Hayward. The third-year shooting guard scored a career-high 34 points and dished out five assists while leading Utah to its second-highest scoring total of the 2013-14 season.
“It was a good effort for everybody,” Burks said. “I happened to make some shots.”
Definition of some in this case: 13 of 19, including enough circus shots to fill a big tent.
Burks’ 17-point first half helped Utah register a season high in scoring for a half in the first two quarters after taking a 67-53 lead into the locker room. The only other time the Jazz had scored more than 112 points came in a 122-101 win over Sacramento in December.
Jazz small forward Marvin Williams, who played despite suffering flu-like symptoms that almost sidelined him, smiled when asked if he was surprised the team had such an offensive explosion without its leading scorer.
“No, not with Alec in the game. Alec and Trey (Burke), they’re always going to give themselves an opportunity to score the ball,” Williams said. “He had a great night. Without him we wouldn’t have won the game. What he did offensively for us and defensively, he was huge.”
Burks was the fill-in star, but he wasn’t the only Jazz player to shine.
Favors notched his 12th double-double with 19 points and 15 rebounds, Burke totaled 18 points and eight assists, small forward Richard Jefferson had 16 points, and Enes Kanter provided an 11-point night off the bench.
And the Jazz put this performance together after looking like the worst team in the league in a 113-102 home loss to a 12-win Cavaliers team Friday.
“We just came out a little slow against Cleveland,” Favors said. “They kind of came in and ran us out of the gym, so we wanted to come into this game and play with a lot of energy and come out and play hard.”
They couldn’t have made their coach, who earned his 100th career win, any happier.
“Tell you what, it’s a great team effort,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said after improving to 100-115 since taking over for Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan in February 2011.
“Give all the credit to the guys, the guys in the locker room, and the coaches getting the guys ready for every game,” Corbin added. “It’s a team thing and I just really appreciate the focus of the guys tonight. They made some runs at us, but we held it in there and won the ballgame.”
The Nuggets can look to LeBron James for some empathetic solace if they so choose. Burks’ previous career high of 31 points came in the Jazz’s 117-94 loss at Miami during the pre-Christmas road trip.
NOTES: Williams said he was “fine” without wearing the protective mask on his face, which he had sported since having surgery to reset his broken nose seven weeks ago. The Nuggets had averaged 119.6 points during their five-game winning streak, but they were held to 44 percent shooting and got outscored 64-58 in the paint by the Jazz. Utah only had one turnover in that first half and 11 for the game.
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