SALT LAKE CITY — The only drawback to winning is that, the more you do it, the more you're expected to do it.
After all, before the 2016-17 NBA campaign got under way, most Utah Jazz fans would've been downright giddy if you told them that their favorite team would win somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 games, capture its division championship and, with only a couple of games remaining in the regular season, be knocking on the door for the No. 4 seed and the home-court advantage in the opening round of this year's Western Conference playoffs.
Those were probably the loftiest of people's preseason expectations, and they took place before anybody knew the Jazz roster would be decimated by nagging injuries to key personnel, injuries that persisted from the opening week (leading scorer Gordon Hayward, who fractured his finger in a preseason practice and missed the first six games) until the last week of the season.
And yet, as they say, the band played on — or perhaps it'd be more accurate to say the bandage played on — as head coach Quin Snyder and his staff masterfully kept putting a giant-sized Band-Aid on this team and coming up with what was often a patchwork lineup, somehow keeping the club together and highly competitive while point guard George Hill, power forward Derrick Favors, shooting guard Rodney Hood and key reserve Alec Burks each took turns spending lengthy stays on the injured list, missing anywhere from 22 games (Hood) to 35 (Burks).
When you think about it, factoring in all those games missed by injuries to their would-be starters and other key rotation players this season, this might be one of the most over-achieving Jazz teams of all time.
Indeed, what this team has accomplished, achieving such solid success by overcoming such great adversity, is right up their with the amazing job that iconic head coach Jerry Sloan did in 2003-04 when he somehow guided his suddenly star-less Utah team — minus John Stockton and Karl Malone for the first time in seemingly forever — to a solid 42-40 finish, just one game out of the playoffs.
Consider this: The five guys (mmm, makes me want a cheeseburger) who would now be considered Utah's preferred starting lineup — Hill, Hood, Hayward, Favors and center Rudy Gobert — have only played 13 games together thus far this season.
Oh, by the way, the Jazz went 11-2 in those 13 games, which can only make one wonder: What would Utah's record have been if those five guys had all stayed relatively healthy all season?
So I don't think it should be construed as being a "homer" to say that Snyder deserves some strong consideration as NBA Coach of the Year this season, although he said on 1280-AM The Zone this past week that he'd much rather see Gobert receive the Defensive Player of the Year award instead.
Actually, they're both very deserving of those annual accolades, though I admit I'd be somewhat surprised if either one of them receives it — simply because the Jazz franchise generally doesn't receive a lot of love or attention from national media members who vote on such things.
After all, as great a coach as he was for all those many years, Sloan somehow never won the coaching award himself, though another former 7-foot-plus Jazz center, Mark Eaton, won the defensive award twice and Malone was a two-time league MVP.
Fortunately for coach Snyder & Co., they had players like versatile veterans Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw, the ever-improving Joe Ingles, and guards Dante Exum and Shelvin Mack at their disposal to plug into all those gaping holes that were repeatedly being left in Utah's lineup.
Johnson, at age 36, continually shows the incredible and invaluable savvy that has kept him in the league and allowed him to play at such a high level for 16 seasons, and Diaw is that likable teammate who would seemingly rather pass the ball than shoot it — at least most of the time.
Ingles has emerged as one of the league's best 3-point shooters and is an underrated defender who just does all the dirty work and other key things necessary to help this team win. And Exum has, at times, shown glimpses of the potential that prompted the Jazz to take him with the fifth overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau applauded Gobert and the Utah team's defense, as well as its overall improvement and the roster that GM Dennis Lindsey has assembled, prior to Friday night's game.
"I think they are well-schooled, tied together," he said of the Jazz defense. "You can tell that they're all on a string. They are all moving at the proper time. They all challenge shots. They finish their defense. The thing that is impressive is when Favors went out, you are losing a lot of size there, but they still remained excellent defensively. It's a credit to their team, Quin and the staff.1 comment on this story
" They have really built their team well. There's size, there's versatility, there are some young guys, there are some guys in the middle and there are some really good veterans at the end. It's a well-put-together team. They are strong on both sides of the ball. I think they play for each other. They make winning plays, and they have had a terrific season."
All in all, yes, it's certainly been a highly successful season made even more rewarding by the fact that, despite all the injury-related adversity that has befallen them, the Jazz have managed to rise above it.
And next weekend, for the first time since 2012, the Jazz will be invited to the NBA's postseason party.
So this fun ride ain't over yet and, as Jazz broadcaster Craig Bolerjack loves to say, buckle up.