1. Back-to-back for the first time since way back…..in February
For the first time since February 24 and 26, and consequently this season, the Jazz managed to put together back-to-back wins after outlasting Orlando 101-94. This statistic is both a relief and a reminder of just how rough this team has been in this calendar year. For all the numerical and analytic wizardry that our resident guru Ben Dowsett can do in any given post, one thing that’s impossible to quantify, yet seemingly as important an intangible concept as any is momentum. Momentum leads to confidence, which then usually leads to more consistency and improved quality of play. The long walk on the path that leads back to relevance has to start with a baby step, and a winning streak, albeit the smallest one possible (thus far), could be just that: a small but crucial step that gets the Jazz headed in the right direction.
The Jazz have a good chance of seeing that momentum snow ball as they head to Charlotte to face off against ex-Jazz stalwart Al Jefferson and the Charlotte Hornets. After making a playoff appearance last year, the Hornets season thus far has to be considered a disaster, if not an outright dumpster fire. Their team defense, last year a key strength and one of head coach Steve Clifford’s biggest accomplishments, has regressed at a shocking pace. To make matters worse, Lance Stephenson is a worse fit on the Hornets than size 4 Daisy Dukes on Ben Handlogten (You’re quite welcome for that mental image). Bolstered by the modest amount of confidence provided by consecutive road victories over not-good-but-not-utterly-terrible opponents, Utah’s chances of making it three in a row look fairly promising.
2. All good in the Hood
Rookie Rodney Hood continues to impress me, playing one of the smartest games I’ve seen him play in his young career. Hood contributed 9 points off the bench on 4-7 shooting and appeared to be a recipient of the bulk of minutes that were previously being given to Joe Ingles, who logged just 3 minutes in this game. Hood also tallied two rebounds, two assists, a steal and my favorite play of the game. With three minutes to go in the 3rd quarter, Hood took the inbound pass from Hayward at the top of the three-point line and drove left, where Ben Gordon and Kyle O’Quinn prevented further penetration. Despite reversing course and ending up well behind the three-point line, Hood smartly turned on the jets and turned the corner on Gordon, drove to the hoop and tossed an effortless no-look pass to a cutting Favors for an easy dunk.
Hood’s continual and relatively quick progression is a huge boon for the Jazz both in terms of future potential as well as current flexibility. If Hood continues to play intelligent basketball and knock down shots, he may prove worthy and able to be the primary scorer the bench unit has been sorely lacking up to this point. Hood being a more-than-competent player also opens the possibility, albeit a remote and distant one at this point, of starting Hood at shooting guard with Hayward and Favors the primary options for the starting squad and moving Alec Burks into a Jamal Crawford-like role as a nightmare match-up coming off the bench.
3. Burke Continues to Struggle
Trey Burke has had a dismal season thus far, and it didn’t get a whole lot better against Orlando. Burke shot just 33% from the field, scoring 11 points on 5-15 shooting with 3 rebounds and 5 assists. Offensively, he struggled to find his niche in the offense, often forcing the issue and, subsequently, an ill-advised shot. The concerns for Burke’s lack of explosiveness and NBA-caliber athleticism that were raised prior to the former Michigan Wolverine being drafted unfortunately appear to be well-founded. This is not to say Burke’s areas of weakness on the offensive end are not able to be remedied, but it seems that Burke will need to continue to adjust his game to be more of a facilitator role in the mold of a traditional point guard.
Defensively, Burke had the tall order of defending the taller, faster and longer Victor Oladipo. Surprisingly, Burke more or less held his own in isolation situations, but struggled mightily to stay with his defensive assignment when the job description included fighting through screens. On more than one occasion, Burke ran into a hard, clean pick and appeared to more or less give up on the play. With Dante Exum, Burke’s only true back-up, occasionally showing flashes of blinding potential but consistently showing his age and inexperience, Burke doesn’t appear in any immediate danger of losing his starting gig.