SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz’s flight landed in Atlanta around 5:25 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 21.
There were no flight issues, guys were able to rest, but the team just didn’t have it that Monday night against the Atlanta Hawks.
Utah trailed by as many as 26 before falling to the Hawks 104-90 in Philips Arena.
Guys looked flat. Defensively, they broke down. They shot 43.4 percent from the field. And just couldn’t hang with the Eastern Conference’s worst team.
To put things in layman’s terms, the Jazz looked terrible.
Atlanta Hawks' Tyler Dorsey, bottom, plays a loose ball with teammate Mike Muscala, left, against Utah Jazz's Ricky Rubio, right, in the second quarter of an NBA basketball game in Atlanta, Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. | David Goldman, Associated Press
“We felt like they wanted it a little more than we did and they deserve it,” said Gobert, in his third game back from a second knee injury at the time. “Until we start playing more physical and being more focused on what we have to do, individually and collectively, we’re going to get our (expletive) kicked.”
Three weeks later, times have changed.
That same Jazz team is now the hottest squad in the entire NBA, riding a 10-game win streak for the first time since 2009 after Monday’s come-from-behind victory against the San Antonio Spurs, 101-99.
Utah (29-28) is still in 10th place of the Western Conference standings, but 1.5 games behind the New Orleans Pelicans for the eighth playoff spot and three games behind the Oklahoma City Thunder for the fifth spot in a tight race.
So what has changed in the Jazz locker room since losing to Atlanta?
“I think the Atlanta game, as disappointed as we all were in our performance, there’s always some games in the NBA season where you lay an egg, and it has more to do with how you respond,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder.
The Jazz responded with 98-95 overtime road win against Detroit two nights later, then upset the Toronto Raptors at home Jan. 26 and stunned the basketball world with a 30-point win over the defending champion Golden State Warriors, 129-99 on Jan. 30. From then on, guys have been rocking and rolling with wins over Phoenix, San Antonio twice, New Orleans, Memphis, Charlotte and Portland.
Snyder felt the Motown win as a bonding moment, though.
“Really for me, it was when Ricky [Rubio] got hit in the face and went back and got stitched up, came back out in the Detroit game,” Snyder said. “It’s that we competed.
“We were fortunate to win that game, but I think our guys gained some confidence in general. The determination came before the confidence,” he added. “They have pride, collective pride. I think that game, it didn’t feel good. You lose games, but if you lose, you want to lose a certain way, if that makes sense. Lose by competing and playing as a team. That’s basically all we’ve been doing.”
During the streak, the Jazz hold the league’s best defensive rating (97.4), the best net rating (15.0), rebound percentage (53.8), and player impact estimate (58.0).
Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles (2), guard Donovan Mitchell (45) and forward Jonas Jerebko (8) gather on the court during the game against the Golden State Warriors at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
They join Boston, Cleveland, Houston and Golden State as just the fifth team with a 10-game win streak this season.
Rookie Donovan Mitchell has been the team’s top scorer over the stretch while becoming the first rookie to do so in 10 consecutive games since Wilt Chamberlain for the 1959-60 Warriors, per Elias Sports.
It isn’t just Mitchell, though.
Joe Ingles has three straight games of 20 or more points, including a career-high 24 points at Portland on Sunday. He’s shooting 57.8 percent from the field, 57.1 percent from three and 100 percent at the free-throw line.
Gobert is a plus 11.4 while averaging 2.4 blocks and 10.4 boards as the lead rim protector in the paint.
Undrafted rookie Royce O’Neale is finding his groove, starting the last two games and coming up with a key defensive stand against San Antonio’s Kyle Anderson on the final possession Monday.
Ricky Rubio has missed the last two games with left hip soreness, but was in the best offensive groove of his career — averaging 18.9 points and 7.6 assists on 53 percent shooting.
Derrick Favors is shooting 54.1 percent from the field to average 12.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks.
Utah Jazz forward Jae Crowder (99) and Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) embrace after beating the San Antonio Spurs 101-99 in a basketball game at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, Feb. 12, 2018. | Kirstin Murphy, Deseret News
Everything just seems to be clicking. Guys are having fun and are even spending time together. This Utah Jazz team is completely different from three weeks ago.
Basketball is fun for them, and it shows. Utah will look to continue its league-leading win streak against the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday before the NBA All-Star break, and there’s no reason to believe the Jazz can’t get it done with the way they’ve been playing.
Then to top things off, they’ve added a tough-minded forward in Jae Crowder before the trade deadline, who is putting up 14.5 points and four rebounds in his first two games as a Jazzman. Right now, this squad has all the implications of reaching the playoffs for the second straight season, but as we all know, there’s still a ton of basketball left to play this season. Let’s not get too excited just yet.
“This is more than a NBA team with us,” Mitchell said. “It’s closer than that. Just going out there every day feeling comfortable to be like, ‘Yo, you want to go do something?’ It’s not as easy as you may think in the NBA.”