The Utah Jazz have become a team of streaks. With three consecutive wins heading into the All-Star break, the Jazz promptly lost three in a row to start the second half. Just as the waters started getting rough, Utah has scraped together two wins before a six-game Eastern Conference road swing that starts Friday.
“It was really big for us,” Gordon Hayward said. “Going into this road trip with some momentum and with a winning attitude and hopefully we go out there and compete and get some wins out east.”
On the trip Utah will look to keep building the momentum it gained by defeating Boston and Phoenix before hitting the road for eleven days. The trip presents an even split of teams, two that the Jazz have beaten this year, two that they haven’t played and two that they’ve lost to. Let’s take a look at the first-half of this roady.
When the Jazz hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers (23-36) it was right after the Cavs had made one of the biggest trades of the NBA season by snatching Luol Deng from the Bulls in exchange for a soon-to-be-cut Andrew Bynum.
Deng’s play was marginal but Uncle Drew (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spDdO_ZB-lE) had a phenomenal outing against rookie point guard Trey Burke. Kyrie Irving was able to fill the stat sheet with a 4-by-5, which is to say he reached at least 5 in four categories: 25 points, six rebounds, eight assists and five steals.
Burke responded offensively shooting 7-15 from the field for 17 points. It wasn’t enough and the Cavs pulled off a Western Conference road win 113-102. Since that time they’ve been streaky including a stretch in February when they won six straight. Four games out of a playoff berth, this will be a game the Cavs expect to win.
Utah will face at least a couple of playoff teams while out East so the team and Head Coach Tyrone Corbin expect to be able to learn a lot about themselves during the trip.
“We’re 57 games into it. It’s a long trip for us. We gotta make sure we understand each and every game, what it’s going to take to play – Especially on the road,” Corbin said. “We have to be ready every night (if) we’re going to show some growth from earlier in the year.”
Corbin went on to say he’d mostly be looking for consistent and good effort during all six games but the players are driven more by results than consistency. When asked what they expected out of the road trip the most common response was simple.
“Some wins, more than anything,” Burke said. “We’re growing as a team so that’s always a plus. In practice we’re playing really hard even at this point of the season. Making each other better. Just continued growth.”
The second game on the road trip might be more of an opportunity for growth than for a win as the Jazz head to Indiana. The Pacers (44-13) are the NBA’s top-dog sporting the league’s best record, but also the best home-record at 28-3.
In a statement year the Pacers are looking to knock-off the defending champion Miami Heat but are still along ways from solidifying home court advantage should they meet in the playoffs. The Heat are just two games back of Indiana right now.
The Pacers present another opportunity for the Jazz to avenge a home loss. In the first meeting Favors put up a double-double with 22 points and 13 boards against a strong Indy front-court. The Pacers answered with a solid team effort, six players scored in double-digits but no one went over the 20 point mark.
The Pacers slowed the game down and their defense wore on the Jazz who shot just 41.3 percent from the field and an abysmal 18.8 percent from three. The Pacers got the win 95-86.
Gordon Hayward is one Jazz man who fan would love to see perform a little better this time around. It’s a homecoming of sorts for Hayward and an opportunity for him to remind Jazz fans that picking him over the Pacers budding superstar Paul George wasn’t the end of the world.
After rematches against Cleveland and Indiana the Jazz will jump in some unfamiliar water when they battle the Milwaukee Bucks. In contrast to Indiana, Milwaukee (11-46) sits dead-last in the East with eight fewer wins than the last place team in the West.
If fully staffed, the Jazz shouldn’t have much of an issue taking care of the Bucks even though the game is at their place. Milwaukee has only one win against the Western Conference this season (for my own delight I’ll mention that was over the Lakers). The Bucks did however play the Pacers to a four-point game in Indiana on Thursday so there’s still room for Brandon Knight and company to come up with a little spark on any given night.
That’s a decent look at what to expect in the next three-games. Check back here the middle of next week when we’ll preview the second half of the road trip with the Jazz heading to D.C., New York and Philadelphia.