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SALT LAKE CITY — Things felt a little different in the Jazz locker room on Wednesday than they did a week before.
It was just seven days ago that a tired and injury-riddled Nuggets team came into Salt Lake City and beat Utah in shocking fashion — handing the Jazz their fifth straight loss and leaving many people to wonder what was wrong.
But to Donovan Mitchell, that game showed him that his team was starting to get right.
“It was obviously a tough loss,” Mitchell said. “But that was really like, you know, we're here; we're guarding the right way. Obviously, things didn't go our way.”
So while the world doubted, Mitchell and the Jazz believed. Turns out, he was onto something.
The Jazz took down the Heat 116-101 on Wednesday for their four straight win — three of which have come against playoff teams, and another against a team fighting desperately for a postseason spot.
“The last two games, we look like ourselves again,” Mitchell said at shootaround. “We can't go back and say, 'OK, we're back' and fall into our old habits — we gotta stay locked in.”
Mitchell said that on Wednesday morning. By Wednesday night, it was clear the Jazz hadn't fallen back into their old habits. Just the opposite, actually — Utah looked more dominant than they have in weeks.
Rudy Gobert crushed fellow All-Star Bam Adebayo. Gobert finished with 16 points and 20 rebounds, and the Jazz outscored the Heat by 25 when he was in the game (Adebayo had a plus/minus of minus 23).
The Heat couldn’t stop the Jazz offense after Mitchell started attacking the rim at will in the second half. Mitchell had 26 points as Utah outscored Miami — the fourth-best team in the East — by 20 points in the second half.
It was the type of performance that put the five-game skid far back in the rearview mirror.
“Sometimes you have to go through periods like that to figure things out,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said of the losing skid. “There were a lot of factors that we were dealing with as a group. They're all weighted at various times — different whether they're individual players or external stuff, how you're playing, schedule, who you're playing, fatigue — and to acknowledge that I think is the most important thing.”
The Jazz had a tough travel month in January with games coming fast and often. Utah was on the road for more than half of the month and only had more than one day off once. And then they faced a gauntlet of playoff teams.
Those weren’t excuses, just the realities of the situation. And that was part of the equation of why they weren’t playing well.
“There are times where you know things aren't going to be perfect, but you rely on the person next to you,” Mitchell said. “You realize that you're going to war with that person next to you, and they're willing to do the same sacrifice, the same amount for you.
"And I think we have guys that do that, which keeps the energy light; it keeps the mood light and keeps everything in perspective. And understanding that it's just five games — it wasn't like a 15-game losing streak. Five games, we have five games on things we could have done better and worked on.”
They worked on them and got better. There wasn’t finger-pointing or even much head hanging. They knew they weren’t executing defensively, and they knew they were forcing it too much on the offensive end. That makes it hard to play well, let alone win.
On Wednesday, they did well at all of that.
“I think the biggest question for us was, as opposed to focusing on what you need (individually)," Snyder said, “was to throw yourself into the group and ask: What can I do to help the team be better? How can I help my teammates?”
That belief in the team concept helped things turn quickly. Now, after a dominant performance against the Heat, the Jazz are riding high into the All-Star break — and with two stars that just showed why they were named All-Stars in the first place.
Funny how much can change in a week.