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John Schuhmann

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Alec Burks, Devin Harris, Jeremy Evans and C.J. Miles (l-r) have helped Utah to a 9-5 start.
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Utah's good endings this year trump bad ending to last one


Posted Jan 19 2012 11:09AM - Updated Jan 22 2012 8:17PM

At season's start, the Utah Jazz were an afterthought in the Western Conference. They no longer had a Hall of Fame coach or a top three point guard. They were downright awful after parting ways with both coach Jerry Sloan and point guard Deron Williams last season, going 8-17 after the All-Star break. Only the Minnesota Timberwolves, who finished the season with 15 straight losses, had a worse post-break record in the West.

The Jazz are seemingly in player-development mode, with four lottery picks from the last two Drafts in their rotation. But they also lean on two former All-Stars (Devin Harris and Josh Howard) and a pair of serious All-Star candidates (Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap).

After four weeks of the season, that mix stands in fifth place in the conference with a 10-5 record. The Jazz have won eight of their last 10 games. And they're not taking advantage of a weak schedule either. They're in the middle of the pack when it comes to schedule strength, with wins over the Sixers, Nuggets and Clippers.

Utah's strong start is not easy to figure out. Watching them, you see that they play hard and play together, and that, of course, is critical. But the numbers don't spell out a clear formula for their success.

Through Jan. 18, the Jazz rank 11th in the league in offensive efficiency (101.3 points scored per 100 possessions) and 10th defensively (98.3 allowed). Their defense has been more consistent over the 8-1 stretch. Their offense has been ridiculously good (113 points per 100 possessions) in their last four wins.

On each end of the floor, there are four factors (shooting, rebounding, turnovers and free throws) that affect efficiency, and of the eight total factors, the Jazz rank in the top five in only one. They rank fifth in the league in turnover ratio, committing just 14.4 per 100 possessions.

So what makes the Jazz tick? Here's a deeper look inside some key numbers ...

Paint dominance

Even with the departure of Mehmet Okur, the Jazz have a lot of talent on their frontline, with Jefferson, Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.

Points in the paint
Bigget differential, per 100 possessions
Team Offense Defense Diff.
Miami 46.4 35.3 +11.1
Utah 50.0 41.6 +8.4
Denver 50.8 43.4 +7.4
Memphis 47.7 40.6 +7.1
Dallas 39.1 35.9 +3.2

The Jazz are outscoring their opponents in the paint by 8.4 points per 100 possessions, the second-highest difference in the league, behind only Miami. But the Heat's paint dominance comes more from defense, while Utah's comes more from offense. No team scores a greater percentage of its points in the paint than the Jazz (49.4 percent).

Fourth quarter

T

In only one of their 13 games (Saturday's easy win over the Nets) have the Jazz been outscored in the fourth quarter. Overall, they're outscoring their opponents by a remarkable 22.4 points per 100 possessions in the final 12 minutes.

Jazzing it up
Utah's efficiency, by quarter
Quarter OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
First 98.2 20 96.6 12 +1.5 16
Second 97.9 16 97.2 8 +0.7 13
Third 96.4 22 108.6 25 -12.2 25
Fourth 113.0 2 90.6 1 +22.4 2
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Home-heavy and loving it

The Jazz have some quality wins, but they've also taken advantage of a home-heavy schedule, with maybe the best home crowd in the league. They're 7-1 at EnergySolutions Arena, outscoring opponents by 10.2 points per 100 possessions. Meanwhile, they're 2-3 on the road, getting outscored by 8.5 points per 100 possessions.

Home-heavy and loving itThe Jazz aren't going on any trips any time soon. Through the first five days of February, the Jazz will have played 15 times at home and just seven times on the road. So it will be interesting to see where they stand in mid-March after a stretch of 18 games where they play only five times at home, with three of the five games coming against the Thunder, Spurs and Heat.

The good news is that Utah's most recent road game, Sunday's win in Denver, was their best.

Searching for the right combination

The Jazz rank 11th in point differential, outscoring their opponents by three points per 100 possessions. But the craziest number of all is that 10 of their 12 most-used lineups have a negative plus-minus. That includes their starting lineup, which has been outscored by 21 points in 155 total minutes.

The lineup data is linked to Utah's quarter-by-quarter numbers. Much of their overall point differential comes from the fourth period, when Tyron Corbin has used a lot of different combinations. Only one Jazz lineup has played in more than two games together in the fourth quarter. And that one -- Earl Watson, Howard, C.J. Miles, Favors and Kanter -- has played together in the fourth quarter of only four of their 13 games.

The lineups
Jazz efficiency, by lineup
Lineup GP MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Harris, Bell, Hayward, Millsap, Jefferson 12 155 93.7 101.0 -7.3 -21
Watson, Howard, Miles, Favors, Kanter 7 45 103.4 105.4 -2.0 +6
Harris, Bell, Hayward, Favors, Jefferson 7 35 88.0 116.3 -28.3 -19
Watson, Burks, Howard, Favors, Kanter 4 28 97.6 102.4 -4.8 -6
Watson, Howard, Miles, Millsap, Kanter 3 20 81.7 87.1 -5.5 -1
What does it all mean?

The jury is still out on the Jazz, but you have to give Corbin a lot of credit for starting fresh after an ugly finish last season and getting his team to make the most of what they have. He's obviously an early candidate for Coach of the Year.

You can't help but be excited about the potential of Utah's young core. And you can't dismiss their ability to win games now.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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