SAN ANTONIO — After starting the NBA regular season with a dismal 1-14 record, the lottery-bound Utah Jazz have actually played .500 basketball — 12-12 — since then.
And head coach Tyrone Corbin is proud of his team — players and coaches alike — for sticking together through those tough times.
"I'm happy with where we are now, how we're getting better," he said Tuesday. "The start, being short-handed, and I thought the lessons we learned and the way these guys stayed together and continued to work while we were in that bad span there showed who these guys are and how they compete and focus and work every day to get better.
"And now we're starting to see some of the rewards of their work. We've got a long way to go, and we've got to make sure we continue to stay focused and keep working every day to get better, and who knows where it'll end up.
"I can't say enough about how they continue to work with these guys and keep them prepared and focused on the things we need to get better at," he said of his coaching staff. "And the players just coming back and responding ... so I can't give them enough credit."
Third-year shooting guard Alec Burks, who scored a career-best 34 points in Monday's victory over the Denver Nuggets — Corbin's 100th career coaching win — said a big part of the team's early-season struggles had to do with injuries that sidelined Trey Burke, Marvin Williams, Jeremy Evans and Andris Biedrins at various times.
"We didn't have everybody healthy," Burks said. "Trey went down, Marvin went down, Jeremy went down, Andris went down, so we didn't have all our guys.
"So we've got everybody being back and being healthy now, that's what happened to our luck. We've got everybody together, so now we're showing our true colors."
Burke, whose play at point guard has made a huge difference since returning from a broken finger he suffered in the preseason, said much of the team's resurgence can simply be attributed to learning to play together — something that only being on the court can remedy.
"We're growing as a team each and every day. We're getting better in practice, and that's what it's all about," Burke said. "We're getting better on the defensive end. "Obviously with Gordon (Hayward) out, when he comes back, we'll continue to grow as a team. We're having fun, and that's more important than anything."
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Wednesday's game at San Antonio marks Utah's first appearance on national television (ESPN) this season.
And Burke is looking forward to it.
"Absolutely. That's what you play for," he said. "I think it's our first game on national TV, if I'm correct, but I think we'll be ready. It's an ESPN game and we've all played on ESPN, so it's nothing we're not used to. But it should be fun. We're all looking forward to it."
Corbin cautioned that his young players needed to be wary about not letting the national spotlight blur their focus.
"It's always fun to be on national TV," Corbin said. "But the San Antonio Spurs is a big enough opponent in itself to think about playing against those guys. So we can't make it any bigger than what it is because the opponent is going to be tough enough for us.
"We've got to make sure we understand how we have to play to be effective against the Spurs, and everything else will take care of itself."
RUSH TO JUDGMENT: Shooting guard Brandon Rush was a non-factor for the first few weeks of the season. But he has gradually begun to find his rhythm in recent games, and he scored seven points in Monday's win over the Nuggets.
"He's getting better. He's getting more and more confident," Corbin said. "He's just trying and playing the game as we get going a little bit deeper in the season here, and that's going to be huge for us.
"We need everybody that we have on this roster to be ready to go and to play their best every night they're out there on the floor for us to have a chance to win. So he's a guy that we're looking forward to continuing to get better."
Rush admitted that his confidence level has begun to grow in recent games.
"I felt a little more confident and a little more comfortable than what I've been showing the last few weeks, and I think it just comes from practice," he said. "All the practices that we've been having these last two or three weeks, and it's just paying off and just trying to switch it over to the games.
"It's definitely fun and it's definitely fun getting the win with the guys."
HAYWARD'S STATUS: Hayward, Utah's leading scorer at 17.1 points per game, has missed the last two games with an injured left hip. He'll travel with the team to Texas, but whether he plays Wednesday night remains to be seen.
"He's gonna go (on the trip)," Corbin said. "I don't know if he's gonna be ready to play (Wednesday) night or not. We'll see how he's doing. We want to make sure we do the right thing so when he's back he's back for a while and not take a chance on getting hurt any further."
Rush said that the Jazz offense continues to make progress and, when Hayward does return, he expects even more improvement.
"I think we're coming along great," he said. "We're still missing G (Hayward); we can't wait to get G back, but once he gets back, I think it's going to just take off because everybody's starting to find their roles on the team and everybody's been trying to make plays and we're playing within ourselves."
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