Utah Jazz: Five Silver Linings From the Two-Game Skid

Utah Jazz Joe Johnson Kyle Lowry Toronto Raptors

Jan 5, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Utah Jazz forward Joe Johnson (6) fends off Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) in the first half at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Jazz are suddenly on a losing streak after dropping games to the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors. Still, there have been some positive developments.

For Utah Jazz fans, the 2016-17 campaign has been a roller-coaster ride. This has been especially evident in recent weeks. After winning four straight games to move into the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference, the team is currently in one of the rough stretches of their up-and-down journey this week.

It began with a 115-104 loss to the Boston Celtics that probably wasn’t as close as the final score indicates. Isaiah Thomas shredded the Jazz in the game to the tune of 29 points. This was followed in short order by a 101-93 defeat at the hands of the Toronto Raptors, who were paced by Kyle Lowry’s 33.

Bad times indeed, and the Jazz (now 22-15) have dropped down to fifth place in the West as a result.

Despite the two-game skid, there have actually been some positive developments along the way in Jazzland. So, in an effort to turn our frowns upside down in the face of a Jazz losing streak, here are five things that I consider silver linings to Celtics and Raptors losses.

Joe Johnson Utah Jazz Amir Johnson Boston Celtics

Jan 3, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Utah Jazz guard / forward Joe Johnson (6) drives against Boston Celtics forward / center Amir Johnson (90) during the fourth quarter at TD Garden. The Boston Celtics won 115-104. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

5) Joe Johnson Is Coming On

Joe Johnson has been a steady hand this season for the Jazz. However, outside of a 29-point effort in the season opener against the Portland Trail Blazers, he’s rarely looked like the seven-time All-Star that he is.

If the last two games are any indication, that may be starting to change. He may not be the Iso Joe of old, but he’s definitely showing a better ability to turn back the clock.

Johnson was particularly good against the Celtics, scoring 17 points on 7-of-11 from the field, while connecting on 3-of-4 shots from behind the arc. He also played better defensively, blocking two shots to go with a steal. His strong play actually got the Jazz back into the game before a late run by Boston quelled any comeback hopes.

It was undoubtedly his best performance since the aforementioned outburst in Portland. The numbers from the Raptors loss were loss gaudy, but he still led the team in the plus/minus department at plus-eight.

The Jazz need more nights like these from their bench players if they want to make waves in the playoff race.

Derrick Favors Utah Jazz Toronto Raptors

Jan 5, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors (15) bumps against Toronto Raptors center Lucas Nogueira (92) in the first quarter at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

4) Derrick Favors Has Progressed

Derrick Favors’ road to recovery has been a long and arduous process. He’s struggled in just about every phase of the game after missing 13 straight games in November and December. It’s been obvious from the eye test, but the numbers bear it out as well.

Since his return from injury last month, he’s averaged just 6.7 points per game and hit less than 40 percent of his field goal attempts. He’s also been a detriment defensively — Jazz opponents have scored 110.6 points per 100 possessions with Favors on the floor over that stretch.

However, he showed some progress in the recent losses. Against the Celtics, he hit double figures for the first time in nearly two months with 12 points. He also grabbed seven rebounds and dished out six assists. In the Raptors game, he finished just shy of a double-double, with nine points and eight boards and was the only starter on the right side of the plus-minus ledger.

He’s also shot the ball better, making 45 percent of his field goal attempts.

Most importantly, he’s moving better and beginning to make some of the plays Jazz fans have come to expect from him. It’s probably going to be awhile before he’s back to true form, but he’s definitely taken some steps in the right direction recently.

Shelvin Mack Utah Jazz Toronto Raptors Cory Joseph

Jan 5, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Utah Jazz guard Shelvin Mack (8) dribbles the ball beside Toronto Raptors guard Cory Joseph (6) in the second half at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

3) Shelvin Mack Actually Had a Good Game

The love/hate relationship Jazz fans have with Shelvin Mack has been running more cold than hot lately. He’s had solid games throughout the season, but his decision-making and foul shooting have often left something to be desired.

Nevertheless, in the game against the Raptors, there’s no denying the fact that the Mack Attack was running strong. In 31 minutes of play, he hit on 7-of-9 from the field, scoring 17 points. He also grabbed four rebounds from the point guard spot.

I recently opined that Mack deserves some credit for how he’s filled in for George Hill. Defensively, there were some issues in containing Lowry, but this kind of overall performance in a hard-fought loss to one of the five best teams in the league still shows as much.

The haters will probably continue to bemoan every minute Mack receives, but until Hill is ready to come back or Exum shows some progression, we’re going to be seeing a lot of him.

Like him or not, he’s probably the best option the Jazz have at the point right and his effort against Toronto speaks to that effect.

Utah Jazz Gordon Hayward Coach Quin Snyder

Feb 29, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder (right) speaks to forward Gordon Hayward (20) during the second half of a game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

2) Rudy Gobert & Gordon Hayward Are Still Playing Like All-Stars

The losses notwithstanding, there’s no question that the Jazz got the best from their best players. A dip in their win-loss record could affect the ability of Gordon Hayward and/or Rudy Gobert to receive their first All-Star nods, but their individual efforts did nothing to weaken their resumes.

Against his former college coach, Brad Stevens, Hayward was the man. He scored 23 points in the game, made 50 percent of his field goals and hit three three-pointers. Then, in a “bad” game against Kyle Lowry and Co., he made half of his shots again, made two threes and scored 16 points.

Meanwhile, Gobert had 15 points, 16 rebounds and three blocked shots against Toronto. He only made 3-of-10 shots in the game, but still found a way to score efficiently, hitting 9-of-10 foul shots.

If the duo continues to play at this level, Utah’s losing streak could be short-lived.

Utah Jazz Alec Burks Injury

Dec 31, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz guard Alec Burks (10) works out prior to the game against the Phoenix Suns at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

1) Alec Burks & Dante Exum Are Back

Injuries continue to be the story of the Jazz season, with the team having lost something in the neighborhood of 100 combined games to injury or illness this season. This was as evident as ever in the last two games — with George Hill on the scratch list, Thomas and Lowry both ran wild on the Jazz defense.

Nevertheless, the Jazz are closer to full health than they’ve been all season.

After making his big return against the Brooklyn Nets, Alec Burks got onto the court for the second time this season in Toronto. He only played four minutes, but he also scored for the first time this season, hitting his only field goal attempt, making 2-of-3 from the line and finishing with four points.

Dante Exum also returned to the floor against the Raptors, ending a streak of seven straight DNPs. While his line of two points and two assists doesn’t leap out and grab you, he moved well and did some good things defensively. In a game the Jazz lost by eight, he posted a D-rating of 93.4 and a net rating of 7.1.

These were good first steps down a road that hopefully leads to Burks and Exum becoming impact players once again.

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