EMPTYING THE NOGGIN – Tribute to a resilient remarkable run by the Jazz

Summary: Down three starters, the Jazz won their seventh straight at Vivint Smart Home Arena and defeated the Portland Trail Blazers, 106-87, holding Damian Lillard to 5 of 20 shooting.

  • What the Jazz are doing this season is truly remarkable. The injuries this team has faced should have crippled their season. It has crippled teams year in and year out, and somehow it hasn’t crippled this team. It is incredible. The Jazz are 11-2 when they have their regular starters. If they are missing one starter, they are 21-11. If they are missing two starters, their record is 14-15 and if they are missing more than three starters — as they were tonight — they are 2-3. Digest that a little more. When they are only missing one starter, this team is 32-13. That is a 60-win team. When they are missing two starters, they are still a .500 team and a possible 8-seed team.
  • This is a tribute to the depth of the team and to the veterans who have stayed professional and contribute whenever called upon. Shelvin Mack and Jeff Withey are winning games for this team.
  • This is a tribute to the depth that Dennis Lindsey built into this roster.
  • This is a tribute to Quin Snyder and his staff for the relentless work and preparation. Their ability to use these players to their maximum potential is remarkable.
  • This is a tribute to Joe Ingles who has so far exceeded what the expectations of his game were this season. He basically played point guard tonight. He has been a defensive stopper, he has played everything from 1 to 4 and he leads the NBA in 3-point shooting.
  • This is a tribute to Rudy Gobert and Gordon Hayward who have been better than any of us realize. Carrying this team night in and night out is an unbearable burden and they have answered the bell virtually every night.
  • Tonight, the Jazz jumped out early and lead 9-0, not allowing a Portland FG until the 7:25 mark of the first quarter. The Jazz led by seven points at the end of the first quarter, 24-17, then by six points at the half, holding the Blazers to 41 first half points. In the third quarter, the Blazers briefly took the lead, but the Jazz got rolling and took an 11-point lead into the fourth. Joe Johnson hit four straight 3s and the Jazz stretched the lead to 20.
  • Utah hit the 3 ball in the second half. They were 3 of 8 in the first half and 10 of 15 in the second half, which was very similar to the first meeting in Utah.
  • Dante Exum played one of the best games I have seen from him. Defensively, he gave Lillard a hard time and executed the game plan terrifically. Lillard finished 5 of 20, and even when he made shots, they were contested. Exum didn’t reach and didn’t get in foul trouble. Offensively, he played off the ball for most of the night and had a nice explosiveness to the rim. He got undercut in the third quarter and left with an injured hip.
  • If I could come up with one play that exemplified Rudy, it happened tonight. Rudy blocked a Lillard drive to the basket, as only he could. Then, when the Jazz went in transition, Ingles stepped back into a wide open 3-pointer. Instead of watching from the other side, Gobert sprinted the floor and when Ingles’ shot bounced off the rim, Rudy was there and dunked it home for two. That is incredible commitment to the game and 90% of all centers in the NBA block the shot and rest waiting for the play to come back to him.
  • Hayward had 30 and dominated the game with mid-range jumpers and then got hot in the third, which spurred the Jazz to an 11-point lead.
  • Boris had a season-high eight rebounds in addition to five assists.
  • I mentioned it earlier: Jeff Withey and Shelvin Mack are winning games for the Jazz. Withey was 5 for 5 in 12 minutes and Mack had 12 points and 5 assists in 26 invaluable minutes with Hill, Neto and Exum all hurt.
  • I hope you are enjoying this run. This team is doing amazing things.

EMPTYING THE NOGGIN – Mack is pivotal in Jazz’s win over Sacramento

SUMMARY: The Jazz take care of business against an inferior opponent, despite another set of injuries, 112-82. Shelvin Mack came off the bench and was key in the victory.

  • Sometimes, the deals not made are the most important. It was highly anticipated that the Jazz would trade Shelvin Mack at the deadline. That never happened. Tonight, the no-deal turned into a big deal for the Jazz. There is value in having someone on the bench who knows your system and knows what your coach wants. If the Jazz had traded Mack, they very well may lose this game, which seems insane to say in a 30-point blowout. But without Hill and Neto, Utah needed Mack. The Jazz were negative when Exum was on the floor until garbage time. Mack was the key to the win tonight.
  • The Jazz came out focused defensively and didn’t let the Kings get a field goal until the 7:28 mark of the first quarter.
  • The Jazz led by 20 points after the first quarter, stretched the lead to 24, but lost their focus and connection to the game, and the Kings eventually got the game back within four points. The Jazz reestablished their dominance and won, giving the kings their largest loss of the year and allowed the Kings to score their fewest points this season.
  • Gordon Hayward showed real leadership tonight. He battled through significant pain and injury to play in this game because the Jazz need it. He wasn’t great. His line — 20 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists — was probably better than his performance, but the message and commitment was clear for all his teammates to see.
  • Rodney Hood was 5 for 5 from 3. If his knee is really feeling better, he can bring some much needed consistency to the guard line.
  • One has to wonder if the wing rotation will be much deeper than Hayward, Hood and Ingles in the playoffs. If Hayward ups his minutes to 36 or even up to 40 and Hood can manage 32 with Ingles playing about 28, there are no more minutes.
  • Jeff Withey has been giving the Jazz a really big 14 minutes a night. He’s a total pro who wasn’t pleased with being dropped from the rotation, but did exactly what he was asked and now is in a little rhythm and playing every night. He is not a great player, but he understands the system and showed a stronger roll to the basket game tonight than we usually see from him. The Jazz were +20 when he was on the floor versus Sacramento.
  • Unfortunately, Dante Exum didn’t excel in his start at the point guard. He had been pulled from the point guard rotation because he killed possessions too often by getting caught in the air, turning the ball over or over dribbling. On one of the first possessions tonight, he drove into the lane, jumped in the air and threw the ball away. Quin pulled Dante out of the game to talk to him again about those plays. Quin reinserted Dante into the game, but he never got going. He finished 0 for 6 shooting and 0 for 5 from 3, he finished with 0 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers and was +1 in a 30-point win.
  • It was really cool that Shelvin Mack was ready to go and carried the Jazz to the win. If the Jazz hold onto the four seed, it isn’t going to be by more than a game. Shelvin’s performance tonight might be the different between Game 1 in SLC or Game 1 in LA (or elsewhere).