Face! Deron Williams and the Jazz have won 11 straight.
I was down on the Jazz the last time they got a full update in this space. At the time Utah was 23-14 and the eight seed in the West. And I came to this dismal conclusion: “In my heart of hearts, I know the Jazz will not win an NBA title this year.”
Now Utah has put together its longest winning streak in almost a decade, beginning pre-All Star break on February 11 with a 113-109 win over the Lakers and running through yesterday’s come-from-behind 109-101 victory over the Raptors in Toronto. The Jazz are a half game up on both Portland and Denver in the Northwest division and would be the four seed if the playoffs started today. And, maybe most important of all, Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko are back from injuries while Deron Williams has become the frickin’ man, putting together eleven straight games of double digit assists (the most impressive being his 20 assists against Denys Lai’s beloved Warriors) until coming up short against the Raptors with a mere 25 point, 9 assist effort.
What’s more, Bill Simmons (!) thinks Utah is a playoff sleeper, there’s buzz that Jerry Sloan might just win his first Coach of the Year award, and to top it all off The Onion has deemed the Jazz worthy of satirical fodder:
SALT LAKE CITY—In a USA Today poll of NBA players and fans published Tuesday, four out of five Utah Jazz players admitted to never having heard of their team, their teammates, or themselves. “Wait, who the hell is that guy?” Utah forward Paul Millsap said while looking at a picture of Jazz forward Paul Millsap. “I seem to remember the Jazz playing pretty well for the past few seasons, and they always have a bunch more white guys than other teams, but I don’t know any of their names or what they do. Ostertag’s not on the team anymore, is he? Though to be honest, it’s not like I’d know him if I saw him.” During last night’s game against the Warriors, the Jazz were charged with their 49th consecutive delay of game penalty when no one got up from the bench after coach Jerry Sloan announced the starting lineup.
Typical of the MSM and its rabid, anti-Jazz bias.
Before I get into any more detailed analysis, I’m so giddy from the recent win streak that I’m just going to post more photos for a while.
Andrei Kirilenko and Paul Millsap tell Kobe Bryant to eat it.
Carlos Boozer tells Gerald Wallace to eat it.
Ronnie Brewer tells Golden State fans to eat it.
Kosta Koufos tells two guys from Syracuse to eat it.
Karl Malone tells Robert Reid and The Dream to eat it.
Adrian Dantley tells short socks to eat it. (Is he stepping on the other player’s crotch?)
Pistol Pete Maravich tells barbers to eat it.
The Utah Jazz mascot Bear tells gravity to eat it.
Weird Al Yankovic tells you to eat it.
I am putting this Kyle Korver photo in solely for my own amusement.
Wow. That felt good.
Back to semi-intelligent commentary:
Are there reasons for pessimism in the midst of this second half surge? A few. Let’s list them:
- Utah is 12-17 on the road, and the Jazz play 12 of its last 19 games away from Salt Lake City. Utah’s road wins during this current streak are against Minnesota, Golden State and Toronto. For the record, none of those teams are good.
- Just six games after returning from surgery, Boozer sat out against Toronto with a sprained ankle.
- Morris Almond (and Kyrylo Fesenko) were assigned to the Utah Flash of the NBA Development League.
- I dropped Andrei Kirilenko from my fantasy team while he was out with an ankle injury. Then when he returned someone else re-signed him before me. I felt awful. Just a bad omen all around considering my team name is “Utah’s Starting Lineup.”
Of those four items, it’s the first one that nags at me the most. If you don’t post a winning road record during the regular season, you’re not winning a title.
Does that mean the likes of Los Angeles, San Antonio or Houston want a piece of Utah in the playoffs? I’m sure they don’t, especially in the first round if that’s how it panned out. But take out Houston, which Utah has demoralized the past two years in the postseason, and I don’t think either the Lakers or Spurs are afraid of the Jazz in seven games.
Since I don’t want to end this post on a downer, let’s fantasize about what would have to happen for Utah to get past the Spurs and/or Lakers:
- Ronnie Brewer would have to shut down Manu Ginobili and/or Kobe Bryant. Hard to imagine, especially against the Mamba, but Brewer has been on the rise this year and is exactly the kind of athletic player that the 1997-98 Jazz would have killed for. (To refresh your memory, this is Utah’s roster that year and each player’s relative athletic ability.
Bryon Russell & Shandon Anderson – pretty athletic!
John Stockton & Karl Malone – pass (I can’t say anything bad about them)
Jeff Hornacek – pass (he only had one good leg so it’d be cruel to pass judgment)
Chris Morris – three years past being athletic
Howard Eisley, Greg Foster, Jacque Vaughn – not very athletic
Antoine Carr – pretty athletic for a 63-year-old
Greg Ostertag – pretty athletic for a 300 lb. block of cheese
Adam Keefe – possessed the motor skills of an aardvark suffering from vertigo
Where were we? Oh right, Ronnie Brewer is pretty good. Getting better. Definitely the best 2-guard Utah has had since Hornacek. Could be really good one day, but how fast can he grow up? Hard to say.
- Boozer would have to be healthy and Millsap would have to keep playing like Boozer’s injured. The two of them don’t coexist well on the court. If we could somehow fuse them into a four-legged, 48-minute-a-night robot with Millsap’s ankles and knees and Boozer’s everything-else, I think we’d do some serious damage.
- Kyle Korver would have to hit shots. Korver is only averaging 8.6 ppg this season (and shooting just 37% from three point range, down from a career average of 40%), but he had 20 points and 8 boards in 33 minutes against the Raptors. He would be Utah’s only legitimate perimeter threat if Mehmet Okur weren’t shooting just under 45% from beyond the arc. But I’m not counting on Okur to keep that up during the playoffs.
- Andrei Kirilenko would have to go AK-47 again. Ric Bucher says role players like Roger Mason, Trevor Ariza, Courtney Lee and Delonte West could be the keys to their team’s postseason success. Kirilenko is this guy for the Jazz. If he plays with his head up (literally — when he gets down on himself his head starts drooping), creates some shots for himself, stays active on the defensive end — Utah is a totally different team. If I were Jerry Sloan, I’d be sabotaging AK’s broadband connection so he can’t waste his time blogging.
- Deron Williams would have to put everyone on his shoulders. He could do it. He’s the kind of player who could decide a playoff series all by himself. I’m just happy he’s healthy. I cried myself to sleep every night he was on the injured list. Sobbed like a baby.
- Matt Harpring would have to get angry. Like this:
You know the words coming out of his mouth are, “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!” And maybe anything is, Matt. Just maybe.
UPDATE!: Once again we’ve made the cut over at SLC Dunk, where they link to today’s post here [the link is “Back on the Bandwagon”]. As anyone who knows me can attest, I’ve never left the Jazz bandwagon. I’ve had my ups and downs this year, but trust me, SLC Dunk — I’m a true believer.
ANOTHER UPDATE!: The Onion on Stephon Marbury going to the Celtics. Shakespearean, indeed.