The Utah Jazz had their most efficient offensive performance of the season Tuesday night against the Cavaliers, making nearly %60 of their shots, en route to a 113-to-105 victory. Al Jefferson scored a season high 30 points making 12-of-17 shots, Paul Millsap added 19 points going 9-of-10 from the floor, and veteran free-agent Josh Howard continued his strong start to the season with 17 points, 4 REB & 3 AST.
The Jazz won their 5th straight game and improved to 6-and-3 on the year, including 5-and-0 at home, their best start at home since 1998 when they won their first 6 games to begin the season.
The Jazz struggled early in the season, particularly with finding the right lineups and rotations as the starting lineup got off to slow starts to begin games and the second half seemingly every night. However, one strength for the Jazz all year has been the play of their bench, which is one of the top scoring benches in the league.
Josh Howard in particular has been a consistent spark nearly every game. Much was made about Howard’s signing with the Utah Jazz as a free-agent just 10 days prior to the start of the season. Howard was coming off of 2 consecutive injury plagued seasons, appearing in just over 50 games from 2009 to 2011. The big concern was Howard’s knee, he suffered a torn ACL in February of 2010 and he missed most of last year as a result.
Utah has not had a great track record as being a destination for free-agents, but the Jazz had a need for another wing player, particularly a veteran. After not getting much attention from any other club, the Jazz lured Howard to Utah, with a 1 year $2.2 million dollar deal that’s looking like one of the best free-agent bargains in the entire league.
As mentioned previously the Jazz starting 5, particularly Raja Bell and Devin Harris have struggled to begin the season. The two are combining to score just 13 points per game with Harris shooting only 39% from the floor, 32% from behind the 3 point line, while Bell is managing a paltry 31% from the floor and 25% from 3.
Their struggles have opened the door for Howard to shine as the 6th man as he’s averaging in double figures, scoring 10 points per game in just 22 minutes a night, while adding roughly 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal. He’s also gotten to the free-throw line more than any Jazzman, averaging over 4 attempts from the line per night and making 91% of them.
Howard is teaming with big men Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, the 3rd picks in the past 2 drafts who are just 20 and 19 years old, Alec Burks the 12th pick in this years draft who is also just 20 years old, and veteran point guard Earl Watson, to form a very effective 2nd unit for the Jazz.
However, the Jazz have yet to face a team with a winning record at home this season, that will change tomorrow when the Lakers come to town. The Jazz opened their season in LA 2 weeks ago and were beaten by 25 points, in a game that was actually worse than the final score.
Utah will definitely be motivated to show they are a different team than the one who was blown out at Staples Center, despite the Lakers being without Andrew Bynum. Kobe Bryant scored an NBA high 48 points in the Lakers win over the Suns in LA Tuesday night. But one of the main reasons why the Jazz acquired Josh Howard was to provide a defensive presence against the likes of Kobe.
How Howard fares against Bryant will go a long way to determine how the Jazz fare as a whole against the Lakers. Wednesday will definitely be the Jazz toughest test of the season at home, and will go a long way in determining whether the Jazz have put their early season struggles behind them, or if they’ve simply been the beneficiaries of a soft schedule.
If the Jazz hope to keep their perfect home record intact, they will need Howard to continue to provide a spark offensively, and somehow slow down Bryant on the defensive end. If the Jazz want to be considered a legitimate playoff contender, then they need to take care of business at home against top competition. They have the chance to do just that Wednesday evening.