PK: Is This Team for Real?

PK

Is This Team for Real?

By Patrick Kinahan

Occasionally on the DJ and PK radio show, with regard to issues in sports, we play around with a segment known as Real or Fake.

There’s no better current topic than the Jazz. In their present state, it’s within reason to ask if the Jazz or real or fake.

Enduring a brutal stretch last month in which they went 3-11, the Jazz have reversed course as spring has sprung. Enjoying a four-game winning streak, the Jazz have defeated the Lakers in Los Angeles and the Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder.

Is this team permanently good or just benefitting from good fortune. (The Jazz beat Minnesota and Golden State in home in overtime and took advantage of Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant combining to shoot 9 of 42 from the floor).

“We’re getting better,” says coach Ty Corbin.

As the regular season draws to a close, we won’t have to wait long to answer the question. Within one month, the Jazz will prove whether they’re fake or real.

Depending on the standard, as long as we’re not talking championship contender, it’s safe to view the Jazz as legitimate. Despite a glorious 48 hours, the Jazz aren’t ready to consistently take down two of the Western Conference’s best teams. But there’s no reason to believe they aren’t good enough to make the playoffs, as especially as the teams around them flounder.

For this season only, the playoffs are an acceptable goal. As long as the Jazz finish among the top eight, this abbreviated season qualifies as a success, no matter what happens in May. Anything less than the postseason deserves the designation of disappointing.

In subsequent seasons, knowing full well the roster will change, the standard increases. Next year it will no longer be acceptable simply to fight all season to land the final playoff spot.

But we’ll worry about the future later. It’s more appropriate to get excited about the team’s current state.

The recent success begs the question as to the difference between the horrendous February and noticeable improvement in March.

Without getting all stat geeky, it’s obvious the team’s defense has improved. Over a six-game stretch in February, in which they lost five games, the Jazz allowed opponents to go over 100 points in every game. In the last six Jazz wins, opponents have scored at least 100 points only once, and that came in overtime against Minnesota.

“I think our pick and roll defense has been the key,” said center Al Jefferson.

Rebounding also has been a significant factor. During the four-game winning streak, the Jazz have combined to outrebound the opponents by 31.

In particular, Derrick Favors has been dominant on the glass. The second-year pro, who is still four months shy of turning 21, has pulled down 52 rebounds in the last four games.

With Jefferson attending the funeral of his grandmother, Favors took advantage of the increased playing time to get 17 rebounds against Golden State and 10 boards in Los Angeles. What’s more impressive is Favors grabbed 25 rebounds in only a total of 45 minutes in the wins over Minnesota and Oklahoma City.

Aside from any pundit’s opinion, it really only matters what the Jazz players and coaches think of themselves. The host of doubt that had to plague the team during its slow start in December and rough stretch last month has given way to much different outlook.

As Jefferson noted, if beating the Lakers and Thunder doesn’t boost confidence than nothing will. That’s not to say the Jazz are ready to proclaim their greatness.

“It gives you a positive feel about where you can be,” Corbin said. “We’re certainly not there yet.”

Once that time comes, the Jazz will without a doubt be for real.