Surging Utah Jazz Turning into Unlikely Road Warriors

Tim PetersonCorrespondent IMarch 11, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 21:  Deron Williams #8 of the Utah Jazz drives on Shannon Brown #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers in the first half of Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on April 21, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

After Deron Williams rocked the United Center with a posterizing dunk on Bulls point guard Derrick Rose in Utah's 132-108 victory in Chicago, it's time to re-evaluate these Jazz road warriors and their position in the Western Conference.



This Jazz team may have finally flipped the switch from being a young and talented team to a legit NBA title contender—not because it beat a mediocre Bulls team, but because of one simple fact: Utah is a dominant home team, and now it has become a worthy road opponent. 


Not many NBA experts buy into the idea of Utah supplanting the Lakers—or even beating the high-powered Mavs and Nuggets.


But don’t sleep on this upstart Jazz team. Here's why.


Make no mistake about it—Utah is playing its best basketball of the season. Even the guys at Sports Illustrated have taken notice of the Jazz, and they'll provide an in-depth feature on the Western Conference dark horse in the magazines upcoming issue.


What’s going right in Utah?


Well, it’s all about finding the right chemistry.


This Jazz team has checked the egos and found a highly productive player in rookie swingman Wesley Matthews.


But that wasn’t the case last year.


Let’s face it: Carlos Boozer’s remark about “getting a raise” to writer Chris Sheridan didn’t sit well with fans and Jazz management. At the time, owner Larry H. Miller called Boozer's remark one of the stupidest he'd ever heard.  


And the team struggled down the stretch last season, losing seven of its last nine regular-season games. Boozer was blamed for the team's shortcomings and all of its dysfunction.


To say the Jazz were a mess would be an understatement.


But it’s amazing how winning cures everything.


This season, Boozer is averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds—and he has provided more than just numbers to the franchise.


He’s become a leader and a go-to guy.


Last month, Jazz swingman Kyle Korver said this to the Salt Lake Tribune about Boozer's new game: "He's been playing great. He's now the centerpiece for us. We feed off of him and Deron. We depend on him."


And as bunched as the Western Conference is, Utah will need everything it can get from Boozer, Paul Millsap, AK-47, and especially Williams—who’s having his best season as a pro.


The Mavs and Jazz continue to keep the pressure on in the wild, wild West.


With the addition of Caron Butler, Dallas remains the hottest team in the NBA—winners of 13 straight. The Mavericks leaped over Denver and are now just three games back of Western Conference leader L.A.


But Utah is also playing with its hair on fire—getting wins in 22 of its last 27 games.  Now, Jerry Sloan’s crew is within one game of Northwest Division leader Denver. And with just 19 games remaining, the Nuggets could be in trouble without injured forward Kenyon Martin.


After Tuesday’s runaway win at Chicago, the Jazz have a road record of 16-14—not exactly road warriors, but it’s an improvement from last season.


As Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Ross Siler pointed out in his postgame wrap-up, Utah’s 16 road wins this season match its entire total from last year. With nine road games remaining, Utah will slide up or down the playoff ladder, pending the outcome of these all-important road games.


If the Jazz continue their winning ways away from EnergySolutions Arena and take care of business at home, Utah could be in for a deep playoff run.


If the Jazz fall off, it could be a very disappointing finish to the season.


Keep your eye on the Suns and Thunder.


Utah currently holds a 2.5-game lead over the Thunder and a two-game advantage over the Suns. Utah must still play a home-and-away series with both clubs. How the Jazz perform in these four games will go a long way in determining home court advantage and a possible division title.


By winning 15 of their last 19 games, the Jazz would have 56 wins on the season. Utah hasn’t flirted with that many wins since the team won 55 games in 1999-2000.


Now it's your turn, Jazz fans, let me know if you believe this team is approaching the same talent level of the Stockton-and Malone-led teams?




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