National Basketball Association

How Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz are silencing the haters

February 17

By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports columnist 

The best thing you can say about the Utah Jazz? How about that there are too many good things going on to pick just one?

The worst thing? Well, for that, let’s leave it to comic genius and entertainment legend John Cleese, famed for Monty Python, "Fawlty Towers" and playing the mad scientist/inventor guy in two James Bond films.

"There has never, ever been a sillier name than … the Utah Jazz," Cleese told a Fan X convention audience in 2019.

When you think about it, he has a point. It’s pretty absurd. You can be a Maverick, a Warrior, a Trail Blazer, even a Globetrotter. In other fields, you can be a Titan, a Cowboy, a Senator and, if you really must, a Pirate (or a Buccaneer). It’s hard to be a Jazz.

Yet even Cleese’s apparent insult was made with affection – he’s actually a passionate fan of the team and exchanged Valentine’s Day messages with the official team Twitter account on Sunday – and there is everything to love about what the Utah Jazz are doing right now.

The warm feelings, it seems, are spreading way beyond the Beehive State. 

"The best team in the West" was how two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo described the Jazz over the weekend.

There are plenty of ways to take that. It could have been a snipe at the Los Angeles Lakers, who typically expect to be receptors of such status. Or a reaction to Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks' losing to the Jazz by 14. Or, perhaps, just a simple statement of statistical fact.

The Jazz, following their 134-123 win over the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers on Monday, hold the best record in basketball, having zoomed their way around America’s crowd-free stadiums to a 23-5 mark.

Utah’s 11-point victory over the 76ers was a statement win, even with MVP candidate Joel Embiid sitting out due to back tightness. The Jazz now hold a two-game lead over the Lakers in the Western Conference and are listed at 12-to-1 odds to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy, per FOX Bet.

We haven’t yet discussed a single one of Utah’s players, which is how it often is with Quin Snyder’s group, a unit that embodies and embraces the concept of team-first better than virtually any other.

Donovan Mitchell is the chief offensive conductor, and Rudy Gobert is a defensive force few can match, but there is a lot more to it than that. During the team’s remarkable current stretch, which has seen the Jazz win 19 of 20 games, the likes of Jordan Clarkson (40 off the bench Monday), Joe Ingles and Bojan Bogdanovic have all stepped up.

The Jazz pass it around with speed and launch shots at will, and they battle for 48 minutes. They felt unfulfilled after leading the Denver Nuggets 3-1 before losing in the first round of the Orlando bubble playoffs, and now they have a point to prove.

"Our mind is stuck on a championship," Mitchell said. "We’re trying to win the whole thing. That’s been the mindset of this team and this group."

They’re not listening much to the doubters, who include Shaquille O’Neal. On a recent TNT segment that turned painfully awkward, O’Neal told Mitchell — who is currently averaging 24.2 points per game — that he "doesn’t have what it takes to get to the next level."

Yet the Jazz are winning over a lot of neutrals, Antetokounmpo included, with a formula designed to maximize their strengths of pace and handling.

"It just looks fun," Antetokounmpo added. "When I watch them play, it looks … easy. It looks simple."

It’s not exactly in fashion in today’s NBA to treat the regular season like it really matters, especially this year. Virtually all the leading contenders have exercised a high level of caution with their stars, with games coming thick and fast due to the reworked schedule following the long layoff during the 2019-20 campaign.

The Jazz are just playing, but they’re not playing around. It’s nice to be good at this stage of the campaign, but it isn't much use if you can’t sustain it.

"Nobody is beating their chest about anything we’ve done," Snyder told reporters. "That’s something we’ll continue to try to avoid."

That task might be getting harder, for three of the Jazz’s next four games come against the Clippers and the Lakers. If the undefeated run continues, the hype will surely escalate.

So here we are, mid-February, and Snyder’s group – and the Jazz’s fans — have virtually nothing to complain about or dampen their enthusiasm.

Even the nickname, when you really think about it, isn’t any more foolish than some others in the NBA. It isn't easy for an athlete to personify a Clipper (sailboat), a Laker (person from a place with lots of lakes), a Rocket or a bolt of Thunder, either. By Cleese’s definition, they’re pretty silly, too.

It’s definitive, then, that everything is going right for the Jazz. And we didn’t need any musical puns to prove it.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.


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