Mar. 14, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson (25) walks off the court while playing against the Phoenix Suns during the second half at the US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Jazz 120-111. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE.

Jazz Youth Ignite Against LA

Mar 18, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Utah Jazz center Derrick Favors (15) is defended by Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol (16) at the Staples Center. The Jazz defeated the Lakers 103-99. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

I am literally speechless.

What a game! What a night! What a weekend!

The Jazz beat not only Golden State, but also the Lakers in LA-LA land (103-99 to be exact), and improved to a +.500 ball club for the first time since February 17. The win also marks Utah’s third straight, and improves them to six road wins on the year.

How did this happen, you say?

A whole lotta rookie power, that’s how. While veteran Paul Milsap led the way with 24 points, nine rebounds, five assists, and two blocked shots, it was the youth who kept the Lakers in check throughout the game. Derrick Favors, coming off a 23-point career night against Golden State, continued his strong play with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Does this man’s arsenal ever let up?

But the story of the night (along with Milsap – more on him in a sec) was BIG TURKEY and Alec (insert nickname here) Burks. Both rookies showed absolutely no fear against their veteran counterparts – namely Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant. Kanter, in particular, played with a glowing “edge” (as Harpring put it), muscling his way into Bynum’s soul where he ripped out the seven-footer’s heart and plastered it all over the court like a wild eyed Mola Ram. With 17 points and eight rebounds, I think it’s safe to say Kanter is legit.

But Kanter’s play, while still pivotal, doesn’t compare to Burks.

With 1:50 to go in the game, Burks made the most important shot of his young career by tipping in Milsap’s go-ahead jumper as it careened off the iron. That shot put the Jazz up by seven, giving them a nice cushion against LA’s bulldozing comeback.

Burks impressed throughout the night with his willingness to lay it all out on the line. Some youngsters (ahem, Hayward, where were you buddy?) shrink in the face of adversity. I remember reading a story somewhere in something a few years ago when the Jazz played against LA. So taken back by the City of Angels were the players that they forgot to play the game. They viewed Kobe as a god.

While I’m sure Burks shares a similar admiration for the Black Mamba, he at least has the sense to leave his autograph pencil at home. Tonight he showed absolutely no fear.

More Big Plays, Please  

Devin Harris made me feel stupid for even suggesting a trade a few weeks ago by chipping in 12 points and nine assists (he was everywhere tonight, making terrific shot after terrific shot). His best points, though, came with less than a minute remaining in the game: Harris dribbled to the left side of the court, put his head down and drove into the paint, throwing up a remarkably easy/simple layup to give the Jazz a five point edge. (I’m really digging the way Harris swatted off all the negative hype from news folk and ornery bloggers and just continued to improve his game. Well played, sir.)

And then there was Milsap.

After a Laker shot (yeah, yeah, yeah) cut the lead to three, Milsap flexed his pectorals (see image) and sunk a beautiful reverse layup, drawing the foul and cementing Utah’s lead for good.

After that play, I knew it was over. I never panicked. Not even after Kobe mirrored Milsap’s play on the other end and closed the gap back to three. Not even when Milsap took a hefty block from Matt Barnes and missed his shot with seconds to go. I wasn’t panicking. Not at all.

I certainly didn’t look like these guys as Kobe calmly made his way across the half court line, en route to possibly nailing a game tying three:

Not me. Nope. I had faith in these guys all along. My insides were like beautiful butterflies sparkling across a clear blue sky …

In my game preview, I mentioned the Jazz had a deeper bench, more athleticism and more versatility. I gave the Lakers a slight advantage, but only because I didn’t expect Kanter, Burks and Favors to live up to my overblown personal hype and turn into a three headed beast worthy of strict religious worship.

And since Bryant missed that shot (to go along with his pitiful 3-for-20 night), my confidence didn’t go for naught. Bravo.

In my opinion, this win was the biggest of the season for this young Jazz squad. To win on the road, despite not having a full lineup, in a place like Los Angeles, where only two teams have prevailed so far this year, was a big ego boost. These wins matter in the long run, especially for a group of first timers.

Big Al, who?

No, I’m not gonna start beating down Jefferson. He will still be the Jazz’s starting center when he returns, but I think these past two, nay, three wins have to hurt the big guy.

Against Minnesota, Al had 12 points. And the Jazz won.

Against Golden State, the Jazz didn’t have him and still won.

Against LA, the Jazz didn’t have him on the road and still won.

Utah is a better team with Big Al, he provides at least 15 good points per game, but he also has a tendency to produce 30 meaningless points. As a contributor, I think he’s solid. But as our go-to guy, I have my doubts.

Seriously, would we have won if Big Al had been with us in LA? I don’t think so. He would’ve hogged up all the minutes, and attempted to lead us to a win down the stretch. He probably would’ve posted 20-25 points, but likewise would’ve been the only player to do so.

I’ve been saying it all year: this is a solid Jazz team (albeit, one that still needs quite a few tweaks). When they play together, they’re unstoppable. When they play like the rest of the NBA, they suck.

Case in point: with the clock winding down against LA, Milsap attempted to put the team on his shoulders with a wild fade-away jumper. One that nearly cost Utah the game. Up until that point, the entire team took turns sharing the burden. In that instance, it would’ve been better for Milsap to pass the ball away; or for Corbin to draw up a different play (rhyme).

Ergo, when Big Al passes the ball, picks up garbage shots and relinquishes his starring role in order to get everyone else involved, I like him. A lot. I just don’t like him when he scores 30. (The same goes for Milsap, and everyone else on the team … at least until they prove themselves capable of true leadership on a nightly basis.)

Hopefully, Coach Corbin saw that against LA. Up until now, I think he’s been afraid to pull the trigger on the youth movement for fear they would crash and burn. Kanter, Burks and Favors will continue to make rookie mistakes, and have bad games, but at least now Coach Corbin finally had a chance to see the level of talent packaged before him.

Merry Christmas.

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Tags: Bryant Burks Bynum Corbin Favors Gasol Harris Kanter Lakers Milsap Utah Jazz Video

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