Harris finally finding comfort zone with Jazz

April 10, 2012

Devin Harris was the other point guard in last year's blockbuster Deron Williams trade, overshadowed even by Utah's acquisition of power forward Derrick Favors in the same deal.

Now Harris is finally on a roll offensively, and it comes at a critical time, with eight games left and Utah (30-28) trying to sneak into the playoffs. Entering Tuesday, the Jazz were 1 1/2 games out of the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.

''He's been making timely 3-pointers for us of late,'' Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said Tuesday.

Can the 6-foot-3 guard keep it going, especially with the Jazz starting a three-game road trip Wednesday in Houston?


''I think he can,'' Corbin said of Harris, who averages 10.9 points, five assists and 1.7 rebounds a game. ''He's worked his butt off all year to get to this point and now the work is starting to pay off for him.''

Harris has averaged 23.7 points a game in the last three, and has made 11 of 22 3-pointers in that span.

But his breakout probably came in the last meeting with the Rockets on Feb. 29, when he was sick to his stomach. He had 19 points in that blowout win before leaving in the third quarter, prompting big man Al Jefferson to proclaim: ''That's the Devin I used to love and hate (in Dallas).''

Six years ago, Harris was a member of the Mavericks team that advanced to the NBA Finals. The following year, he was in the playoffs for the third straight season with the Mavs.

Since then, not a sniff, not in New Jersey after he was traded for Jason Kidd in 2008; not when he was an NBA All-Star in 2009; and not last year with the Jazz after the February trade.

''As a young player, you kind of take it for granted, making the playoffs every year,'' said Harris, now in his eighth season. ''It's been quite a while.''

While Utah's management has embraced him and staved off all the new Harris trade rumors, he acknowledges it's taken a while for him to settle in with the Jazz.

''I've had flashes, especially the second part of the season after the All-Star break,'' Harris said of playing up to his old level. ''But I'm trying to find a level of consistency.''

As Harris goes, so do the Jazz, and an up-tempo attacker is the player Utah needs.

He's playing with the speed that earned him a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2009 as the fastest to go baseline to baseline.

''On a good day, I could match it, yeah,'' Harris said.

Corbin wouldn't doubt it.

''It's his speed,'' he said. ''He's doing a great job of pushing the ball down the floor. His confidence in his jump shot has gotten better this year because he's making shots. But he uses his speed to get on top of the basket and break defenses down, and he can finish in the lane.''

Harris went on a personal 11-0 run in the fourth quarter Monday night to spark Utah's 91-84 win over the star-less San Antonio Spurs. It was the third time this season he's had a personal 10-0 run in the fourth quarter.

It starts with defense.

''I've got to continue to shoot, continue to be aggressive,'' Harris said. ''A lot of what we do depends on our defense. If we can get in transition, we're very good. When we tend not to get stops and have got to play a half-court game, a lot of teams set up on us and we're not as effective.''

With the Jazz short-handed, they're even using a double-point guard set, and may continue with Harris and Jamaal Tinsley or former NBA D-League sharpshooter Blake Ahearn, who joined the team at practice Tuesday.

Harris feels comfortable with that role as well.

''In Dallas I played a lot with Jason Terry in the backcourt, so I'm used to a small lineup, another ball handler,'' he said. ''I can be effective either way, and we have been effective with that lineup.''

Getting those 3s to fall, however, will be key.

Harris gives some credit to second-year pro Gordon Hayward, who has dueled with him in a pregame shooting contest since the season started. Harris holds a slim one-game lead in their season series.

''His trash-talking along with his competitiveness really gets me going, especially in the (actual) games,'' Harris said of the sarcastic Hayward, who also has found his niche and is now third on the team in scoring (11.3-point average). ''He says that I only make shots (when) he passes me the ball, which is true. I live off those shots and we kind of look for each other.''

Harris, however, is the one with the playoff experience. But first the Jazz have to get there.

After Houston is a road game at Memphis. They also play Monday against the Mavs at home, where Utah plays four of its last five.

''I think he's starting to finally play with confidence and be comfortable on the court and not think so much,'' Hayward said. ''That's his biggest thing.''

''Obviously if he plays like that,'' assistant coach Jeff Hornacek said, ''we have a good chance, so hopefully it continues.''