Charlotte, N.C. • No one is ready to say the Jazz are over the proverbial hump that separates the NBA's elite from the underlings. But the literal barrier between the winners and losers? That's in the rearview mirror.
At least for now.
The Jazz moved above .500 for the first time since before Christmas, improving to 19-18 with a 112-102 win over the lowly Charlotte Bobcats.
"Right now, we're one up," coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We want to get to two up, to get to three up, to get to four and get a run going."
The product Wednesday was efficient, workmanlike and even fun. The Jazz got big performances from Al Jefferson (26 points, eight rebounds), Paul Millsap (19 points) and Gordon Hayward (4 of 5 on 3-pointers). Even rookie Kevin Murphy got a chance.
"I thought it was going in," he said of his one shot attempt in three minutes, which brought the entire Jazz bench to their feet before clanking off the rim.
But while this one was a laugher by midway through the second quarter, when the Jazz led by as many as 21 points, they hope there was serious work being done. While the Jazz are moving up in the Western Conference standings, winners of four of their last five games, they also recognize the harsh realities that face them. They are without two key starters (Mo Williams and Marvin Williams), can be maddeningly inconsistent and won't always get the performances they got against the Bobcats.
After two more games on the road, first Friday in Atlanta then Saturday in Detroit, the Jazz play 15 of their next 20 games at home.
"This is the time to do it," Jefferson said. "We've been talking about it long enough. Now, it's time to be about it, because before you know we're going to be at the All-Star break, before you know it's time to make that playoff push. Time's going by fast, these games are coming by fast. It's time to start taking advantage of them right now."
The Jazz took advantage of everything Wednesday night. Good ball movement, questionable defense, hot shooting.
The Jazz players so systematically took turns at dominating the game Jefferson in the first and third quarters, Millsap in the second, Alec Burks in the fourth it was as though a sign-up sheet had been posted before the game in the Jazz locker room.
Six players reached double figures for the Jazz, and two more scored nine.
"For us," Millsap said, "this is a business trip. We're going to try to get all three of these games. No excuses, we're going to try to go out there and win them all."
The Jazz have been up and down all year. When they build big leads, they often relinquish them. On Wednesday, though, there was a certain resolve that hasn't always been present for the Jazz.
And the Jazz feel Charlotte is more than the wannabe Washington Colonels it's often billed as.
"We've kind of had letdowns before, and that's the NBA," Hayward said. "The team has a lot of talent, and they've been in close games. So we knew it was going to be one of those things where we've got to jump out on them early and not give them life."
Bobcats reserve guard Ben Gordon scored 11 of his team-high 20 points in the fourth quarter, forcing the Jazz to make plays. DeMarre Carroll and Randy Foye made back-to-back 3s with 5:13 remaining to put the Jazz up 107-92, and Burks completed a three-point play on the next possession.
"Our experience took over," Millsap said, "and we just felt like it shouldn't have been that close."
In a season in which the lows have been more frequent and severe than the highs, it wasn't hard to get caught up by the optimism around the Jazz on Wednesday. It raised one critical question: Just how close are the Jazz?
Storylines Jazz 112, Bobcats 102
R Al Jefferson leads six Jazz players in double figures with 26 points.
• The Bobcats tie the game at 29, but 36 points in the second quarter allow the Jazz to pull away.