SALT LAKE CITY — To be 22-19 at the halfway point of the season in seventh place in the Western Conference standings is a happy place for the Utah Jazz, considering what they’ve endured so far this season.
The Jazz have dealt with injuries to key players, including their starting point guard, have been forced to integrate several new players into the lineup, while playing the franchise’s most road-heavy first-half schedule in 27 years.
You have to go back to 1985-86 to find a season where the Jazz played as few home games in a non-lockout season.
The Jazz have played just 17 home games compared to 24 road games, and only one team in the NBA, Saturday’s opponent Cleveland with 16, has played fewer home games.
The fact that the Jazz play much better at home — 13-4 compared to 9-15 — has to be heartening for a team that is playing better as the season progresses and can look forward to a bunch of home games.
With Saturday’s 109-98 win over the Cavaliers, the Jazz have won seven of nine games in 2013, since ending 2012 with three straight losses. And thanks to recent slides by other Western teams, the Jazz are rapidly climbing the standings.
Utah is a game and a half ahead of both Houston (21-21) and Portland (20-20), who have lost seven and five consecutive games, respectively, and just a game and a half behind Denver, which has lost two straight.
“We’re not exactly where we want to be, but we’re within range to be in position to get ourselves in the playoffs to take a good run with the homestand we have coming up,’’ said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin.
“The schedule’s been tough, and we feel like we should be a lot better than we are,’’ added Paul Millsap. “But we feel like we’re making strides and have turned the corner to be that team we expected to be at the start of the season.’’
OVER THE YEARS: The best halfway record the Jazz have ever produced was a 31-10 mark in 1994-95. The best second-half mark was 36-5 in 1996-97, the first year they went to the Finals.
The most common record at the halfway point has been 27-14, something the Jazz have done eight times, most recently in 2010-11. That was the year they had one of their worst second-half marks, going 12-29.
The only other time the Jazz went 22-19 over the first half of the year was 2001-02 when they duplicated the mark in the second half and finished 44-38.
BEHIND THE ARC: One of the biggest improvements for the Jazz this year has been their 3-point shooting.
After finishing 27th in the league last year, when they shot just 32.3 percent, the Jazz knew they needed to improve their 3-point shooting, and they’ve done that, with Randy Foye, Marvin Williams and Mo Williams joining the team and Gordon Hayward making a big improvement.
Foye is sixth in the NBA in 3-point shooting at 43.7 percent, while Hayward has improved from 34.3 percent to 41.1 percent this year. Mo Williams was hitting 37.6 before he went down with his thumb imjury, while Marvin Williams is hitting 34.1 percent. As a team, the Jazz are shooting 37.3 percent, which is tied for seventh in the league.
“We need to make those shots in a timely fashion,’’ said Corbin. “We don’t go out and search them, but if the opportunity is right in the rhythm of the game and making them, it’s a great tool for us.’’
As for Foye, who hit 4 of 8 in the win over Cleveland, Corbin said, “He’s a guy who if he has his feet set, is very confident in taking those shots, and he’s making a lot of them.’’
HOLDING THE POINT: With Mo Williams out until perhaps March, the Jazz are relying on a point-guard-by-committee approach with veterans Jamaal Tinsley and Earl Watson holding down the position with occasional help from second-year player Alec Burks.
Most games, Tinsley and Watson split time equally, and Burks comes in and often plays key minutes down the stretch as he did in recent victories over Dallas and Charlotte when he scored 13 and 12 points, respectively.
After Saturday’s game when Tinsley scored 11 points and had four assists in 22 minutes and Watson had nine assists while going scoreless in 25 minutes, Corbin praised his veterans.
“These guys have been great all year, particularly since Mo went down,’’ he said. “They’re elder statesmen in this league and they know how to play, and they do a great job of playing within who they are and we need them to help continue to help.’’
JAZZ NOTES: The next Jazz game will be Wednesday night when the Washington Wizards come to EnergySolutions Arena. The 30 assists against Cleveland was the second-most for the Jazz this season, only behind the blowout win over Toronto in early December when they had 31. By going 7 for 8 from the field Saturday, Enes Kanter improved his team-leading field goal percentage to 54.7. That would rank 10th in the league if he had enough shots to qualify. Al Jefferson, who had 11 boards Saturday, ranks 12th in the league in rebounding at 9.8 per game.
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company