We are approaching the completion of the first quarter of the 2020-21 NBA season. In about two weeks, the majority of teams will have played at least 18 games, exactly a quarter of the condensed 72-game schedule. The playoffs will start before we know it. Time is creeping up on certain franchises. Then again, it has a way of locating certain teams in a momentous swing. Take the Utah Jazz for example, the hottest team in the league.
After pummeling the Golden State Warriors 127-108 on Saturday night, the Jazz won their eighth consecutive game. This was anything but a narrow contest. Utah scored the first 14 points of the game and jumped out to a 22-5 lead in the blink of an eye.
Golden State, behind a milestone night for Stephen Curry, fought and cut the Jazz lead to single-digits through the first frame. Then the game got away when the reserves checked in the game. Inconceivably, Golden State elected to rest both Curry (28.2) and Andrew Wiggins (17.7), their two leading scorers, at the same time. Meanwhile, the Utah cavalry, led by Jordan Clarkson, Joe Ingles, and Derrick Favors, held down the fort. Donovan Mitchell scored 20 points in the opening two quarters, and the Jazz led 77-47 at halftime. They did not look back.
Almost unexpectedly, the Utah Jazz have emerged ahead of the flock of teams angling for respectability in the Western Conference standings. As of today, they hold the third-best record in the NBA at 12-4.
The Utah Jazz Are Conquering Small Market Plight
“If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” This is a classic thought experiment on how perception intersects with observation. This colloquialism is applicable in the form of NBA franchises rooted in small-market cities.
Consider the championship odds as proof. The East-leading Milwaukee Bucks are currently less-favored than the newest superstar alliance in Brooklyn. Small-market teams historically must fight for relevancy against their big-market, superstar-wielding foes. Regardless of whether one is proven more than the other.
The perception of promise in basketball derives from attention as much as reputation. The Toronto Raptors were a punchline between 2014-2018. They were doomed in perpetual demise at the hands of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Toronto’s perception changed when they traded for Kawhi Leonard during the summer of 2018. After landing a superstar, the Raptors jumped a rather absurd 4750 points into sixth place among odds-on favorites to win the 2018-19 title.
Utah currently ranks eighth (+2200) according to PointsBet, an NBC Sports odds-making partner. That approaches the Raptors odds (+1850) from 2018. In this instance, however, the Jazz have catapulted their fortunes without a blockbuster deal in the past year.
They boast continuity, a rare commodity today. Eight of their top nine scorers are returning from last year’s roster. Favors is the odd man out of that group, and he is technically the longest-tenured member of the team. Familiarity allows the Jazz to support an egalitarian style of play. Six of their players average more than 10 points per game. Not to mention, the metrics to date are also impressive. Utah possesses both the seventh-most efficient offense and defense in the entire league, entering yesterday’s games. They are fun and those numbers indicate they are ready to compete.
They Must be Seen to be Believed
Donovan Mitchell: “Man, we’re on a seven-game winning streak. We’re playing good basketball. I’d hate to take a win like this and make it about what they said about me. … I’m happy.” https://t.co/5m8zTCo9Yj— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) January 22, 2021
The Utah Jazz are fun, man.
They lead the league in made three-pointers per game, and their floor is lethally spaced out. Guys set screens and get open. From a purist’s stance, Utah’s defensive possessions are equally as entertaining. The Jazz move on a string while avoiding fouls. They feature one of the best rim protectors in the league in Rudy Gobert. They are undoubtedly a well-coached team. As Mark Jackson would probably say right now, give their Head Coach Quinn Snyder “a TON of credit.”
Watching the Jazz play is almost like watching a great band. Or, a remastered edition of an all-time favorite record. I have to say, the Utah Jazz play like a dusted-off 2014 San Antonio Spurs vinyl. However, seeing is believing.
When Shaquille O’Neal lambasted the Utah Jazz on TNT this past Thursday night, they officially became the hipster darlings of this NBA season. Check them out before the bandwagon catches up.