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Kurt Kragthorpe: Jazz's home court becoming fun house

Published January 19, 2012 11:49 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The shot clock kept malfunctioning in the fourth quarter Tuesday night at EnergySolutions Arena, causing delays that made the visiting Los Angeles Clippers endure even more misery.

This game could have lasted forever, as far as the Jazz were concerned.

Jazz home games are becoming fun again. Judging by their 108-79 victory that featured a fourth-quarter dunking festival, the ESA aura is back.

"Three or four years ago, people hated to come into this building and we didn't lose games here," said Jazz forward C.J. Miles.

That hardly was true last season. Yet suddenly, a team that went 21-20 at home in 2010-11 is 7-1 at ESA this season, with only an overtime defeat. And the Jazz (9-4) have the second-best record in the Western Conference.

Anybody see this coming?

Anybody see this lasting?

Eventually, some combination of inexperience, scheduling, healthy opponents and pure reality will catch up to the Jazz. Yet this much is undeniable: By simply playing well at home and winning the games they're supposed to win, the Jazz are exceeding expectations, creating hope and looking like a genuine playoff team.

Even before training camp opened in mid-December, general manager Kevin O'Connor said, "It's fun to get out from under that cloud that was kind of over us in March and April."

Six weeks later, the outlook is even brighter. "It seems like every night out, we get a little better at something," said guard Raja Bell.

In Tuesday's episode, that something was dunking - mixed with defense. The Jazz threw down eight dunks in all, including four in a two-minute frenzy midway through the fourth quarter when the Clippers appeared to lose interest. Jeremy Evans delivered two of the throw-downs via lob passes, Miles broke away for a slam and Enes Kanter stepped inside and dunked.

Just like that, the Jazz were on their way to a 34-point lead.

Not bad for a team that's still struggling to make a high percentage of its shots, even with all those dunks.

"It was ugly," said Clippers star Blake Griffin. "At the same time, they did things they wanted to do."

In fairness, the Clippers were in the middle of three games in three days, so coach Vinny Del Negro backed off early. What's more, they were missing point guards Chris Paul and Mo Williams due to injury, and there's a lot of that going around ESA.

The Jazz have hosted Milwaukee without Andrew Bogut and New Orleans without Eric Gordon, among other absentees, and seem to keep catching tired teams in this building. They'll face those circumstances themselves, soon enough.

But for now, about one-fifth of the way through this shortened season, the Jazz are on the rise - and they played without rotation regulars Josh Howard and Derrick Favors on Tuesday. As this home-heavy schedule continues Thursday against Dallas, the Jazz have a decent chance of standing about 15-5 as of Feb. 1. By then, they may have developed so much confidence and continuity that they just might keep acting like a playoff team.

"The main thing is that we're growing as a group," coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We're communicating together, we're counting on each other, we're encouraging each other, we're pushing each other to get better. … We're holding each other accountable."

It's working, beyond what anyone could have imagined when the Jazz went 1-3 between Christmas and New Year's Day. They're 8-1 since then.

"We expect to be good, man," Corbin said. "If you don't believe you can be good and win games, you won't."

Apparently, the Jazz believe, because they are winning. This level of play may not be sustainable in February and March, but it's fun while it's lasting.


Twitter: @tribkurt






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