We're continuing to grow because we're making the right passes. —Tyrone Corbin
SALT LAKE CITY —
It took the Utah Jazz 28 games at the end of last season to get new coach Tyrone Corbin his eighth win.
Forget all of the improvement this Jazz team has made on the offensive and defensive ends, the superior communication channels players and coaches have opened up, the increased trust they have in each other, their individual and collective development, their jelling chemistry, the night-in-night-out better effort and, of course, more accurate shooting.
Yes, that's all come together faster than almost anyone expected.
But check out the growth chart that matters the most in the NBA: the standings.
Only 12 games into the 2011-12 campaign, and the Corbin-led Jazz already have eight wins.
That's tangible progress.
"We know what we can do. We know our capabilities," Jazz power forward Paul Millsap said. "We know where we are headed, where we want to go, and we're just fighting to get there."
Fighting on the fast track, it seems.
Eight wins are about half as many as some people predicted they'd get all season. (Coincidentally, Corbin's eighth victory last season and this year both came against Denver.)
Now back to all of that stuff you were told to forget in that long second paragraph.
The Jazz's early season success has happened because they've remembered to implement the offensive execution, defensive rotations, talking, believing in each other, fine-tuning skills, bonding, role acceptance, support, hard work and, of course, more accurate shooting.
Corbin and his coaching crew brought a wagon full of those goods to sell in training camp, and the players bought it all up.
Now they're cashing in.
"We're happy we won the game (Sunday). But at the end of the day, I'm not surprised the way we've been playing," Jazz center Al Jefferson said following Utah's impressive 106-96 win at Denver.
"Like I always said, if we just go out there and play the game that we was taught to play and do what Coach want us to do, we're going to put ourself in a position to win."
Big Al and Millsap have been the cornerstones of Utah's offensive success.
Both are playing at All-Star levels, with Jefferson leading the team with averages of 18.7 points and 8.9 boards and Millsap contributing 15.6 points and 8.6 boards a night.
If one's not on, the other likely is.
Sunday was a prime example, with Jefferson carrying Utah in the first half for 12 of his 18 points. He then handed the torch over to Millsap, who lit up Pepsi Center by scoring 14 straight and 16 of his game-high 26 points in the final period.
Corbin credited them for learning how to effectively work together. When one drops down, the other pops up — and vice-versa. They're meshing, and opponents are paying for it.
"We've been doing that all year," Millsap said. "Al brings a lot of attention. So when guys go down to double him, somebody's going to be open and it just so happened to be me (Sunday)."
But the Jazz's success has been predicated on more than just those two talented bigs.
"We have extreme depth," Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward said. "Coach is confident with anybody that we put in there, that they're going to step up and do their job on any given night."
It might be a game-winning free throw and team-best 18 points like Hayward had in Golden State. . . .
Or Derrick Favors filling in for Jefferson in the starting center spot and going off for 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Or Josh Howard chipping in a critical 17 points off the bench in a win over Cleveland.
Or Earl Watson providing solid minutes behind a steadily improving Devin Harris . . .
Raja Bell getting his defense on against Monta Ellis . . .
C.J. Miles firing in 17 points while beating his buddies from New Jersey . . .
Enes Kanter rebounding with reckless abandon . . .
Alec Burks exploding to the hoop with wild energy . . .
Jamaal Tinsley providing leadership from his front-row seat . . .
Jeremy Evans leaping over tall buildings to punish the rim.
Corbin and his coaches deserve credit as well for mixing and matching, blending the exuberant youth with the experienced vets, remaining patient and working out kinks.
That process, by the way, is far from over.
"We're getting used to each other. We're playing hard," Corbin said. "The guys are counting on each other, trusting each other on both ends of the floor."
Offensively, the Jazz have made big strides. A team that began the season scoring 71 points and shooting just 32 percent has averaged 108.7 points in its past three wins. Utah is now 10th in the NBA in shooting percentage (.454).
The Jazz are also climbing up the assists leaderboard (11th, 21.6 apg). They're sharing, running and creating from defense more.
"We're continuing to grow because we're making the right passes," Corbin said. "We're making great cuts on the offensive end, pushing the ball up the floor. We're searching for early opportunities, and when we get in half-court sets, we're doing a good job of executing our offense."
To a man, they all say it begins on the other end of the court.
Hayward calls defense the Jazz's "calling card," and they've been handing it out lately.
Only one team has eclipsed the century mark in scoring against the Jazz during their current surge of seven wins in eight games, and that happened in a 113-105 win over the Cavaliers.
"Defensively, you see our rotations are a lot better," Harris said. "Guys are protecting one another. It's good to see. We're building a team camaraderie. . . That's the trust."
It began at Zions Bank Basketball Center, Harris said, and it's continuing to show in NBA arenas.
"The physicalness that we bring in practice, we've been waiting just to bring it to the game," he said. "We've seen this in training camp. It's good to see it finally transferring over."
The Jazz can continue to grow in front of their home crowd, with a four-game homestand tipping off tonight against the Los Angeles Clippers.
"We're so much more familiar with each other now," Corbin said, referring to the first two blowout losses of the season.
"We were spinning a little bit," he added. "The guys were still getting used to each other and getting used to us as coaches and the staff and what we're trying to get done. We're a much better team now because of the work that we put in."
Now it only remains to be seen how long it takes the Jazz to win their next eight games.
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