Last week, we reviewed how the Utah Jazz’s 2-2 record was a sign of significant improvement. Trey Burke‘s emergence has paved the way for such improvement and a win over a strong Houston Rockets team on Monday added to the high hopes. Unfortunately for Utah (or fortunately for their draft lottery position), the team went 0-3 for the rest of the week. It was a grueling set up for the Jazz as the only game they may have been expected to win was Saturday’s against Sacramento on an away-home back-to-back. A week of games against Houston, the league-leading Indiana Pacers and the West-leading Portland Trail Blazers is not something any team would want to face, and a Jazz team that is still trying to find itself is no different.
Monday 12/2: Utah Jazz 109-103 Houston Rockets
As was said, this was a huge win for Utah. It brought them to 3-1 over their last four games, which has to feel good to a team who had only one win prior to that. Though James Harden did typical James Harden things and scored 37 points, the Jazz got 20-plus point nights from Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and Trey Burke. Hayward led the way with 29, while both Alec and Trey added 21. Trey added six assists and was 3-for-6 from beyond the arc. The game ended up being a representation of what the Jazz hope to see in the future, with their young core leading the way.
Wednesday 12/4: Indiana Pacers 95-86 Utah Jazz
Though the final score doesn’t show it, this game was actually another quite promising game for the Jazz. Utah held double digit leads and kept the game very even until the fourth quarter. The better team pulled away at the end, but you get the feeling that this is what Utah wanted from this team this year. The Jazz showed heart and fight against the team with the best record in the league. Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter each had double-doubles and scored 20-plus points.
Friday 12/6: Portland Trail Blazers 130-98 Utah Jazz
Believe it or not, the final score may indicate the game was actually more competitive than it was. The Jazz seemed to let Portland shoot whatever shot they wanted, which consisted of an extreme amount of 3-pointers, and Portland obliged by converting efficiently. It was an incredibly disturbing showing if you are a Jazz fan and part of a season-long trend that is relatively surprising. Utah’s defense was supposed to be one of the more promising parts of their game this year. General manager Dennis Lindsey was very clear that, in a year that wasn’t going to produce many wins, defense was something that would be very important for this team. Utah is still one of the worst, if not the worst, defensive team in the league depending on what metric you use. Nobody really played very well for Utah in this one (Derrick Favors’ +/- was -40), but Alec Burks did account for 16 points and three assists.
Saturday 12/7 Sacramento Kings 112-102 Utah Jazz
This is a game Utah probably should have won. First of all, Derrick Favors and Marvin Williams (Tyrone Corbin‘s most recent frontcourt starting preference) were both out. This led to too many minutes needed out of players like Mike Harris and Andris Biedrins. Sacramento even employed the hack-a-Biedrins method early in the first half. However, Utah overcame this and led by three points with just seconds left to go. Though as the clock ran down, a defensive mistake allowed for Sacramento to shoot a wide open three pointer to send the game to overtime. In overtime DeMarcus Cousins employed his incredible strength, finishing touch, and flopping abilities to secure a win for the Kings. The Jazz again were led by Hayward, Burks, and Burke, the latter of the three nearly recording a triple-double with 10 rebounds and seven assists to go with 19 points.
Alec Burks: Burks’ up-and-down season is back to “up” status, and he has been an extremely important piece of the puzzle recently. Burks recorded 21, 11, 16, and 19 points in the games this week and he had at least three assists in each contest. As always seems to be the case with Alec, his jump shot is dictating success. While most of Burks’ success will always come at the rim, he needs to keep defenses honest by hitting jumpers. As he’s been doing so, it allows him to get to the rim easier and utilize his strength at finishing and getting to the free throw line. Hopefully for Burks and Utah, he can find some consistency.
Singin’ the Blues
Richard Jefferson: Jefferson has been one of coach Ty Corbin’s most utilized players this season. This week was no different as Jefferson assumed his place in the starting lineup. However, Jefferson just hasn’t been good enough for this. Sure he has an occasional “wow” play that shows what his value could be, but his role should not be playing 20-plus minutes a night. Going into Saturday’s game, Jefferson was shooting less than 40 percent on nearly 8.5 shot attempts per game. This week he registered point totals of 3, 4, 3, 13. If Jefferson were to be replaced in the starting lineup, it would likely either be by Burks and move Hayward to the 3, or have Marvin Williams (when healthy) slide to the 3 and have Enes Kanter reclaim his starting role. Both Burks and Williams have been featured frequently in the “Who’s Jazzed” section of our weekly recap, and each would logically make sense as a way to reduce Jefferson’s minutes. With Brandon Rush slowly working up to game speed, it’s hard to imagine that anyone but Jefferson should have their minutes reduced to make way.