PK: Time to Prove It


Time to Prove It

By Patrick Kinahan

Given the rigors of the NBA schedule, which in this lockout shortened season is 66 games, it’s usually foolish to attach undue significance to any portion.

Fools, all rise.

Pulling even at .500, after falling three games under, the Jazz have won two consecutive road games for the first time this season. It begs the question, is it the result of playing well or a fortuitous break in the schedule.

“I don’t know if they’ve turned the corner,” Jazz broadcaster Matt Harpring said Thursday morning with DJ and PK on 1320 KFAN. “That’s a tough question. They beat two teams that are lower tier teams.”

Indeed, the Jazz had little trouble handling Cleveland and Charlotte, two Eastern Conference teams that are a combined 36 games under .500. But don’t forget, this is the same team that lost to the 5-23 New Orleans Hornets last month.

Hang on a minute, the mystery will be solved soon. The Jazz finish the road trip against division leaders Philadelphia and Chicago, which also owns the league’s best record.

Considering the games will be played on consecutive nights, a sweep is unlikely. But if the Jazz are for real, there’s no reason they can’t beat the slumping 76ers, who are 3-8 in their last 11 games.

“If they can get a split that tells me they have turned the corner,” Harpring said.

Acknowledging that there’s plenty of season left, the Jazz nevertheless have a great opportunity to make a dramatic push into playoff contention. Two games in two cities, it’s right there before them.

Even if it’s fool’s gold, the Jazz have confidence. When a team is sitting at a Western Conference-worst 3-13 on the road, any win away from home should be considered positive.

“We believe in how we’re playing right now,” said Paul Millsap after the Charlotte game.

Besides beating lousy teams, the Jazz have another reason for the optimism. After watching Gordon Hayward struggle through a season of inconsistency as a starter, coach Ty Corbin had seen enough to warrant a change.

Recognizing that Josh Howard has been playing well as a starter, Corbin used Raja Bell’s return from an injury as an opportunity to juggle the lineup. Hayward went to the bench, allowing the second-year pro to use the situation to his advantage.

Instead of deferring to proven veterans, Hayward clearly has been more assertive in his two games as a reserve. The Jazz most likely would have won both games even with Hayward as a starter, but the change has provided a jolt.

Along the way, Al Jefferson has become a more willing passer. He has totaled 12 assists in the last two games, surpassing any two-game total this season. Incidentally, Jefferson has combined to score 56 points over the last two games, his second highest two-game output this season.

The key, as Jefferson pointed out, is to continue the pattern of going inside-out on offense and rotating well on defense.

“We’ve got to continue to do the same thing,” he said.

While it’s silly to contend the season rides on these next two games, the new wave of enthusiasm does need a signature moment. And if it comes this weekend, the newfound road warriors can be set up to climb the standings.

Only four games separate the Jazz from third place in the Western Conference playoff race. And after this road trip, the next four games feature only one against a team with a winning record (Minnesota).

In one week, at the trade deadline, the Jazz could be positioned nicely for the stretch run. But if they flounder, which would come in the form of closing the trip with two blowout losses, the two recent road wins wouldn’t mean nearly as much.

Only a fool would think otherwise.