By all rights, Wednesday's Jazz-Cleveland game shouldn't be a big deal. To most of the country, it will be as interesting as a punctured balloon. One team is a mid-level scrapper, hoping to make the playoffs. The other is a dumpster fire.
Even so, I already have my TV warmed up. I want to know what Ty Corbin is going to do. If Monday's loss to Milwaukee was any indication, it will be a regular suspense flick. Will he change his starting lineup? More importantly, who will he play, and when?
This wasn't a big deal, even with all the injuries the Jazz have suffered, until the loss to Milwaukee. Derrick Favors was on the way to the best night of his career, scoring 23 points and adding 15 rebounds, most of that in the first half. But what happened next was jaw dropping: Corbin didn't play Favors the final 17 minutes.
At first glance, Favors was looking like Karl Malone squared, the next minute he was on the bench, imitating a potted plant. The Jazz ended up losing in overtime, a defeat sure to haunt them when the playoffs arrive.
Naturally, this riled fans. How could Corbin not play his hottest player? His explanation: Enes Kanter and Paul Millsap were also playing well. In fact, Kanter had a 18-point, 10-rebound night of his own.
Thus, Corbin did exactly what he should have: He stayed with the hot hand, even when it wasn't the obvious choice.
This is a move I've been hoping to see since, oh, the start of the tech revolution.
It's about time a coach went with his gut instead of his head.
If a refresher course is needed, read on. Jerry Sloan was a Hall of Fame coach, but he was also as predictable as a tuna sandwich. He had his starting five. He subbed them out at the same intervals every single night, regardless of hot streaks. Wash, rinse, repeat.
I remember players — OK, mostly reserves — privately saying they disliked that. They felt they couldn't prove themselves by playing well because their allotted time always outranked their performance.
But it wasn't only the minutes, it was the patterns. Same plays, same people taking shots, no matter what happened. Sloan had a point, saying that preset plans allowed players to mentally prepare for their roles. It was hard to argue because through the 1990s, Utah was one of the finest teams in basketball.
Still, I always wondered about comfortable veterans vs. hot hands.
Now there's Corbin, and he's been less predictable. A lot of that has been injuries, which have overturned the cart. The Jazz have used 11 different starting lineups this season. Eight players have missed two or more games due to injury.
Even so, Monday's events were a moderate shock. Favors turned in a vivid first quarter, scoring 14 points and getting five rebounds, standing in for injured Al Jefferson. Suddenly he looked every bit a No. 3 draft pick. But Kanter came on in the fourth quarter and overtime, scoring baskets, going to the line and grabbing rebounds.
He was a force, both in and outside the paint.
It's easy to see why many wanted Corbin to re-insert Favors late in the game. He's a good defensive player and his shots were falling earlier. But Kanter was also making shots and has better mid-range touch. Corbin could have gone with Favors based on early returns, but in the NBA it's what-have-you-done-for-me-lately.
As in, oh, the last five minutes.8 comments on this story
Favors didn't sound happy about the snub. He shouldn't. But this is actually a good thing. Corbin is learning how to choose situations over schemes and both Favors and Kanter are growing their confidence. Competition for playing time will make both less likely to relax.
If this keeps up, Jazz fans can't complain. By next summer, the team will have more options than ever. It will be easier to decide which veteran big men to keep and which to let go.
Hurting Favors' feelings is a small price to pay for moving everyone ahead at once.