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“Jazz beat the Heat! Jazz beat the Heat! Jazz beat the Heat! The Utah Jazz are NBA champions!”
Well let’s not go quite that far. Yes, Monday night the Jazz did beat the defending NBA champs, the Miami Heat, in front of a sold-out crowd at EnergySolutions Arena. Despite nearly blowing a 21-point lead, the Jazz held off LeBron James and posted their best win of the season. Now what does that mean? Well, not much really.
When the Jazz posted their previous best wins — a 117-110 road beating of the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 9 and a 99-96 home victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Dec. 12 — they preceded to lose seven of their next nine games.
It does mean that when the Jazz play team basketball — when almost every player contributes, attempts to play defense and shares the ball — they can compete, and at least at home, beat almost every franchise in the NBA. The problem is, as we’ve seen over this season, this doesn’t always happen. The Jazz have multiple personalities — many times within the same game.
This was the case against Miami when the Jazz tightened up, melted down and watched their 21-point lead deteriorate to two points in the fourth quarter. The Jazz's combined shooting was 4 for 19. Take out Gordon Hayward, who went 3 for 7, the rest of the team went just 1 for 12. That has happened too many times this season. Either the Jazz have blown leads that ended up as losses — most recently to Atlanta on the road — or they have started slow, putting them in holes they have to climb out of. In fact, the Jazz have trailed by double digits in 24 of 40 games this season. Fourteen have resulted in losses.
How can the Jazz suppress the evil side of their personality and embrace the positive, productive one? It will be difficult considering they're almost halfway through the season. As the old saying goes, “you are who you are.” And for the Jazz that is a collection of free agent mercenaries on the final year of their contracts mixed with younger players who will factor into the long-term future success of the franchise.
And that is where the Jazz should put their focus during the remaining part of the season: toward the youth that will eventually, at least Jazz fans hope, make this team a true contender once again. You are already seeing it pay off with Hayward, who is becoming the playmaker and the emerging star the Jazz turn to late in games — someone they’ve lacked since Deron Williams left. Yet Hayward is still coming off the bench and averaging just 26.6 minutes per game. Other promising youngsters are averaging even less than that — Derrick Favors (21.5 minutes), Enes Kanter (14.7 minutes) and Alec Burks (13.4 minutes).
As the Jazz schedule softens with 14 of the team's next 19 at home, the Jazz are hoping for more wins that should be able to move them up the playoff standings. This is all fine and well, but does anyone really think this team can make a major playoff push as constructed? And if the youngsters still lack consistent minutes will that really help them?
The key date to watch will be Feb. 21 — the NBA trading deadline. That is when we’ll find out whether the Jazz are really playing for the future by moving at least one or a few of the players on the final year of their contracts to further improve this team for the future. Or will they try to go at it with the players they already have for a playoff run that will surely result in another disappointment?
If that is the case I wouldn’t blame Jazz fans for developing a few multiple personalities of their own — most likely ones driven by anger.