All That Jazz: Utah's Proving To Be a Team with Heart
The Utah Jazz are currently on their longest winning streak since 1999. In that year, they won 11 straight games; currently they are sitting on a 12-game winning streak and looking to extend it to a lucky 13 tonight against the Atlanta Hawks.
During the streak, the Jazz have beat the Lakers, Celtics, Hornets, Mavericks, Nuggets, and Rockets—just to name a few. They also have won four straight on the road, which didn't seem possible in January when the only road game they won was against the Memphis Grizzlies.
How have the Jazz done this? Here are a few keys to the Jazz winning streak...
Finishing off teams in the fourth quarter
The Jazz have had very strong fourth quarters outscoring their opponents 311 to 233. The Jazz now know how to take it to a higher level when it counts.
Strong bench play
The Utah Jazz have strong veterans coming off the bench. Andrei Kirilenko has started nearly every game of his career besides this year. AK-47 has adapted to coming of the bench and has excelled. Paul Millsap has proved that he can be a starter in this league by his play when Boozer was out. Now with Boozer starting and Millsap off the bench it makes the Jazz 2nd unit that much more powerful.
Knight, Harpring, and Korver also have started around 300-400 games in their respective careers. Strong veteran play is key for any team to make noise in the playoffs. When the Jazz had to play players like rookie, Koufous, Fesenko and younger players playing key minutes winning on a consistent basis and winning on the road was difficult. Now the Jazz are healthy for the most part and have their veterans contributing.
Jazz fans for years have slighted Jerry Sloan for being rigid in his lineups, for taking out the hot hand, for playing a veteran over a more talented younger player. This year in particular since the winning streak Sloan has been a mastermind with his rotations. Sloan has used small, active lineups in the fourth quarter when playing young athletic teams like the Warriors and the Kings, bigger lineups when playing teams like Denver and Houston. The big key is that Jerry has been flexible.
Flexibility in offense
The Utah Jazz are one of the most versatile teams in the NBA when it comes to how they play their offense. The days of a thousand pick and rolls and Stockton to Malone are over. While Boozer was out the ability for the Jazz to run other plays besides "the PNR" was capitalized.
The Jazz can outrun the Golden State Warriors and yet grind it out with the defensive money ball, Houston. The Jazz have about eight players who can go off for 20 points on any given night. You never know how or who is going to hit you when playing the Jazz. During the win streak the Jazz have played all kinds of style of basketball but the key is they are playing as a team, which leads to the last key of victory for the 12 game win streak.
Confidence and Heart
In December and January the Jazz were playing uninspired ball. They weren't winning on the road, they didn't look they even believed that they could beat anyone on the road. They also were losing more at home than they probably should have done. It was difficult for the Jazz to build confidence and gel as a team, with never knowing who would play, who would be out, what would the lineups be like.
In February, the team was mostly healthy, Boozer coming back mid February and team all of the sudden had a different look about them. The players were enjoying the game again. They believed in each other and they knew that with everyone healthy they could beat anyone. They, the Utah Jazz could be an elite team in the NBA.
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