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Utah Jazz: Red-hot team is finally firing on all cylinders

Published: Tuesday, July 28 2015 4:26 p.m. MDT

Utah Jazz point guard Randy Foye (8) shoots a 3-point-shot as the Utah Jazz play the Portland Trailblazers in NBA basketball Monday, April 1, 2013, in Salt Lake City. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Utah Jazz point guard Randy Foye (8) shoots a 3-point-shot as the Utah Jazz play the Portland Trailblazers in NBA basketball Monday, April 1, 2013, in Salt Lake City. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Paul Millsap has a simple way of describing the underlying factor for the Utah Jazz's winning streak.

"I guess," he said, "guys just started hitting shots."

That makes the team's timing as good as its aim.

Five straight victories heading into tonight's big game against Denver have helped the Jazz climb out of the postseason pit of despair and into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"I hate that it took this long for it to happen, but I think everybody found a rhythm, everybody (is) playing hard, playing their role and just getting the job done," Jazz forward Derrick Favors said. "I guess you can say it just kind of happened at the right time."

It's not just that they happened to start hitting their shots that's encouraging.

Since they were deep in the heart of Texas, the Jazz have been playing the way the organization hoped they would when assembling this temporary cast of characters.

Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors are playing like beasts in the post.

Randy Foye, Mo Williams, Gordon Hayward and Marvin Williams are providing a scoring punch from the perimeter.

That inside-out game is finally working as management envisioned. While their bevy of bigs gets the bulk of the credit for being this team's biggest strength, the Jazz have even set a record for 3-pointers in a season (449, surpassing the 439 treys made in 2009-10).

"With balance comes success," Millsap said. "We feel like we're a more balanced team. It's not just inside game; it's now focused on the outside. Guys are hitting shots for us."

Since being reinvigorated in an overtime loss in San Antonio, the Jazz have scored at least 103 points in six straight games. In their five blowout wins, they've beaten opponents by an average of 12 points while scoring 108.6 an outing.

One day, the Jazz were in the midst of losing 11 of 14 games, irked fans were calling for coach Tyrone Corbin's job and the frazzled franchise was doing a believable impersonation of The Great Post-Jerry Sloan/Deron Williams Freefall of 2011.

The next day, they're looking like they actually belong in the postseason and weren't all packing it in for the busy free-agency period looming this summer, as some skeptics suggested.

"It just seemed like it happened overnight. One game turned into two games, tow turned into three," Millsap said. "The guys' confidence is up right now. We've got both sides clicking, inside and outside. That's primarily why we're winning the games."

Not only that, but the team has endured and evolved, taken advantage of a favorable schedule, jelled with the season on the line and, yes, shocked outsiders who were ready and giddy to give that last seat at the playoff table to the Lakers.

That still could happen, of course.

But, for now, the Jazz are in the position of strength — both in the impressive way they're playing and in the sense that the postseason spot is theirs to lose.

"We continue to play. We understand what it's going to take. It's a long season. Sometimes you're not playing your best basketball," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "As long as you don't quit on yourself, continue to work, stay focused, stay together ... (you'll) have a chance to work it out.

"This group of guys has shown that they're going to stay together, and they want to get better. As a result, we're having better results. We're all in it together."

Go back to last offseason, and the Jazz would've guessed they'd have more wins than 39 by now. But this is the style of basketball and the type of results they would've predicted they'd be displaying at this point of the season.

"You want to play the way you envision. It's not going to be like that way every night, but it's fun to be on a roll where you get it consistently each and every night because we went through stretches where we didn't get it each and every night," Mo Williams said. "It's fun to be on the other side where we can get consecutive wins and play good on consecutive nights."

Williams gets a chunk of the credit from his teammates and coach.

Four weeks after his return from thumb surgery, the Jazz's starting point guard is giving Utah the speed, swagger and scoring punch the team has so desperately needed from its floor general position.

The tri-captain has been the team's vocal leader all season, but he's scored 20 or more in three straight along with dishing out an average of 6.6 assists in Utah's last five wins.

Williams said part of that is because his thumb is continuing to improve. He changed his pregame and practice routine, going without his brace until game time. Once the games begin, he's more aggressive, from attacking and running the offense to shooting 3-pointers in the flow of the offense. It's added up to him finding his stride.

"I'm just playing. I'm not even thinking about it at all," he said. "Just letting the plays happen — just let my natural abilities happen."

The wins are happening as a result.

"Mo, you can tell he's back in his groove," Jefferson said. "He's playing like the way he want to play. He's scoring the ball. He's getting people involved and playing great defense in my opinion.

"It starts with him. Everybody else is just kind of jumping on his bandwagon and running with it."

The Western Conference's current player of the week deserves some kudos, too.

Big Al has picked up his usually consistent play, averaging 20.6 points on 55 percent shooting and 8.6 rebounds during the season-high winning streak.

Then there's Foye's sensational shooting from 3-point land, Hayward's all-around excellence, Marvin Williams' smooth transition to a reserve role, Favors picking up the slack for the injured Kanter in that backup big man position, occasional bursts of timely energy and scoring by Alec Burks, Jamaal Tinsley's steadier play at point guard, and a tightening of the rotation by Corbin that is paying off.

And to a person on the payroll, they'll credit a renewed defensive focus for boosting results.

It's all added up to adding some drama and excitement to the end of an otherwise frustrating season.

Even though it took 70 games to find, this balancing act has proven to drastically increase the optimism and hope levels in the locker room along with the team's spot in the standings.

"You look at the Baltimore Ravens. They started playing well at the right time and that got them the Super Bowl," Jefferson said. "To me, we're clicking and getting together right at the right time. We've still got seven more games to go and we've got to continue to play like that."

Especially that part about hitting the shots.

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