SALT LAKE CITY — Not long ago, the Jazz were the likable underdogs that punched above their weight class. But there’s little love for them outside the Wasatch Front in 2019.
These things happen when you stop being benign. Just ask the Cleveland Cavaliers, whom the Jazz wrecked on Friday night. For many opponents, the Jazz have become a regular pain in the low post, so to speak.
They relish the role.
“You did this!” Donovan Mitchell taunted a fan after scoring the dagger shot against Detroit last month. “It’s your fault!”
The same could be said of the Jazz. They’ve won six straight games, having muscled, pestered, dunked and yapped their way into playoff contention. They’re just two games behind third-place Portland, a team they host Monday.
The numbers explain a lot about why they’ve risen from 14th place in the West to seventh. They’re fourth in defensive rating, with the easiest remaining schedule in the league. They’re third in scoring defense, eighth in point differential and sixth in field goal defense.
In short, the Jazz don’t meekly concede to anyone.
It’s not only numbers that are grating on opponents; it’s their style. They’re the annoying brother that never knows when to quit. Jae Crowder’s four technical fouls are more than all but 27 of the league’s 494 players.They have the Defensive Player of the Year in Rudy Gobert and one of the league’s stars in Mitchell. They also have arguably the NBA’s premier trash-talker: Joe Ingles.
Today’s Jazz are acting as bad as they wanna be. They flattened Cleveland so badly the cleanup crew had to scrape the Cavs off the court. In December, Gobert got fined for criticizing officials. Also that month, he swatted cups off the scorer’s table in frustration and got ejected seconds into the game. He vowed if officials didn’t get more consistent, he would mete out “ugly” justice.
Ingles was a social media sensation after calling Detroit’s Blake Griffin a “flopper.” The Australian forward nailed a crucial corner-3 in the same game and blew a kiss to a heckler.
That’s a lot of attitude from a team that finished the first half of the season below the playoff watermark.
Ingles is the classic player you never liked in pickup ball. He slaps, holds, leans, drapes and impedes. After frustrating Oklahoma City’s Paul George in last spring’s playoffs he said, “It’s great. I love it. Hope we do it again.”
Ingles got whistled for a flagrant foul after mugging Cleveland’s Collin Sexton on Friday. This season he has taunted Draymond Green, tangled arms with Russell Westbrook and rolled his eyes at the Clippers.
Ingles told, “The Woj Pod”: “I’ve got a receding hairline, I’m slow and I’m probably not the most jacked up with abs and all that, but I’m still going to beat you one-on-one. Settle down.”
There’s no advance stat to show a player’s capacity to irritate, but everyone recognizes it when they see it. Ingles is as irritating as a cold sore.
Gobert has long been on the prickly side of any player interaction. His game-time demeanor ranges from frown to scowl. On Friday his forearm nearly took off a Cleveland player’s head.
Meanwhile, following a slow start on the season, Mitchell on Dec. 31 tweeted, “New Year, new me.”
It certainly is.
Their message to the rest of the league: We’re coming.5 comments on this story
The good news for Jazz fans is their team seems built for the lengthy season. Their winning streak has been executed without a true point guard, due to injuries. They slogged through the toughest first-half schedule in the NBA and came out looking playoff ready.
Neither Gobert nor Mitchell is drawing enough votes to make the All-Star Game in fan balloting, though either could make the coaches’ ballot. The only All-Star team Ingles will ever make is All-Troll.
Should the Jazz care?
They’re doing fine just aggravating themselves right back into the playoffs.