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The Jazz are off to their best start in 14 years — can they sustain it?

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

The Jazz are off to their best start in 14 years — can they sustain it?

By Ryan Miller, KSL.com | Posted - Jan. 24, 2021 at 7:49 a.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — For a brief moment Saturday night — after the Jazz's win over the Golden State Warriors and before the LA Lakers' game had wrapped up — Utah was the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

Still, No. 2 isn't bad, especially for a team that has had a trend of starting seasons slow.

In 2017, Donovan Mitchell's first year with Utah, the Jazz were 6-10; in 2018, the team was 8-8; and last season, the Jazz started 11-5 — but then lost four of their next five.

All those seasons, in time, featured long winning streaks, with the Jazz sitting in the middle of the Western Conference playoffs. But never one this early.

Utah is 12-4 record, which is the team's best 16-game start since the 2006-07 season (a season that ended in the conference finals), and is currently on an NBA-leading eight-game winning streak. So the Jazz are feeling pretty good, especially due to how they've done it.

Utah's eight-straight wins have come by an average of 15.8 points and Utah hasn't trailed in the fourth quarter in any of them. It's no surprise then that they have the No. 2 offense in the league, the No. 3 defense and the NBA's best net rating during the streak.

It's been a dominant stretch and one that, like most things this season, can be linked back to Utah's playoff disappointment last summer.

"We saw what we could be in those seven games. That loss hurt," Mitchell said of last year's first-round loss. "I said after we lost: it's about not letting a foot off the gas in any type of way, coming out strong with a statement. And that's what we've been doing, guys have put the work in in the offseason, from top to bottom."

The Jazz jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first two minutes of Saturday's win over the Warriors, they led by 30 at halftime and were up by 40 in the fourth quarter. That was a statement.

Mitchell said this team is different from a mentality state this season, especially lately. He pointed to Thursday's win over New Orleans when the Pelicans jumped out to a 16-point lead. The Jazz took New Orleans' best shot and then erased it like it was nothing.

In year's past, "Maybe we don't win that Pelicans game the other night because they come out strong," Mitchell said. "You're seeing things that we typically have struggled with and we're having success with, but now it's a matter of keeping that success."

The Jazz have started well — more than well, even — but now it's a question of if they can sustain that. That's why Jazz coach Quin Snyder threw a bit of cold water on the hot start.

"We're not a quarter of the way through the season, so I'm not trying to dampen any enthusiasm that I want our team to feel," Snyder said. "It's OK to feel good about how you're playing. There's a long season ahead; it's a marathon and there's games where it clicks like it did tonight and there's other games you have to grind.

"I just want us to stay steady, not too high, not too low. And the fact that we're playing well right now is a good thing, but the challenge is to continue to play well, and that's what we're looking at."

Utah doesn't have to look too far back to see some head-scratching defeats. The loss to Minnesota is turning out to be one of the more surprising ones of the season, and the Jazz's performances in their trip to New York City didn't raise much confidence. Those are the types of games they are trying to avoid moving forward.

So there was no celebrating the small feat of reaching the top of the conference for a matter of minutes. They want to be able to be there when it really counts.

"There's still things to watch film on," Joe Ingles said. "We will obviously watch film and there'll be things that we know we didn't do as well, things we can do better.

"Obviously we're a confident team and we're confident in the style that we play. We're gonna miss shots, we're gonna make shots at times, but I think our defense has been pretty consistent, obviously tonight (Saturday) it was. And we were able to make shots as well, so when we're going on both ends, we're tough to play against."

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