PK: Factors Leading to the Great Start

PK

Factors Leading to the Great Start

By Patrick Kinahan

It's the obvious question, the kind that has several answers but no one can be absolutely sure of the origin.

From 1-3 to 9-4, the Jazz have enjoyed a dramatic and pleasant turnaround. So what' s the difference between the bad start to now?

Pick a reason.

Earl Watson singles out a point late in the loss at San Antonio, when Josh Howard committed a hard foul during garbage time. Since then the Jazz began playing with a passion that had been missing.

Raja Bell credits the coaching staff, saying Ty Corbin lectured the players in direct language on the need to play defense and be unselfish on offense.

"The coaching staff is where it starts," Bell said.

Whatever it is, the Jazz are glad it's there.

"It's just amazing what winning can do," Bell said. "It just makes everything better."

From this outsider's perspective, the biggest difference is the team's commitment to defense. Maybe for the first time since Mark Eaton roamed the paint, the Jazz can consistently protect the basket.

The attitude, which as Bell notes starts with the head coach, has permeated throughout the team. The blocked shot has taken on added importance, almost to the point of meaning more than a field goal. The NBA's statistics on defense prove it.

"We needed to really make an effort on the defensive end first and foremost," said Bell.

Outside of Andrei Kirilenko, who was great at providing off-the-ball help, the Jazz didn't have any significant shot blockers beyond Al Jefferson in recent years. This season they rank second in the NBA in blocked shots at 6.6 a game.

Another factor for the team's great start is depth. While Paul Millsap and Jefferson are stalwarts, Corbin has the luxury of choosing among nine other players. Whether it's Gordon Hayward one game of C.J. Miles the next, one or multiple rotation players have produced.

As many of have noted, the schedule has been forgiving. The home-heavy start, which has been augmented by several lesser teams missing key players, has afforded the Jazz the opportunity to win early games, but the players still had to accomplish the task.

Bell thinks there's more to it than loading up on creampuffs. He believes the NBA lockout contributed to the awful first week.

The reality was many players weren't prepared mentally and physically to begin the season. Maybe they needed a shock to their systems.

"It was a feeling out process those first few games," Bell said. "We came out the first couple of nights thinking that we had the formula and thinking what we had was enough, but we quickly realized it wasn't."

Evidence seems to back up Bell's theory.

After losing by a combined 42 points in the first two games against the Lakers and Denver, the results of the rematches were much different. Playing both teams in the same order last week, the Jazz lost to the Lakers in overtime – granted, the second game was at EnergySolutions Arena – and then beat the Nuggets by 10 points in Denver.

"It's kind of unprecedented," Bell said the remarkable and sudden improvement.

Instead of languishing near the bottom of the Western Conference, the Jazz trail only Oklahoma City in the race for the best record. The torrid pace most likely won't continue, as the schedule turns more difficult along with other factors, through the first three weeks of the season the Jazz are the NBA's surprise team.