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Holy Mackerel! Shelvin Mack goes off for career night in Jazz win

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s understandable that some people would look at how the Utah Jazz fared before the trade deadline — notably the seven-game winning streak — and compare it to the 2-7 record the team had since inserting newcomer Shelvin Mack into the starting lineup.

Even Quin Snyder has recently found himself in an unenviable position of trying to defend Mack, who’s had his share of exciting and excruciating performances since joining the Jazz three weeks ago.

Snyder pointed out that some might’ve had too high of expectations for a player who’s never been a consistent starter in his five-season career.

“We traded for him because we thought he was solid, he could help us. I think he has,” Snyder said. “That doesn’t always equate to wins and I don’t think it’s fair to put that on him.”

The Jazz coach said that in his pregame quotes Friday, by the way.

The doubters had to be doubting some of their doubts after Utah’s 114-93 win over the Washington Wizards.

Mack, who’d played poorly in back-to-back losses to his previous team, Atlanta, and at Golden State, had quite the bounce-back performance against the Wizards.

The Jazz’s starting point guard scored a career-high 27 points on 11 of 17 shooting, dished out four assists, grabbed three rebounds and played pretty good defense on All-Star John Wall for most of the night.

“He played well tonight,” Snyder said.

Gordon Hayward lit up when asked about his old college teammate.

“It brought back some memories of when we were at Butler,” Hayward said, smiling. “I thought he played well tonight.”

Hayward pointed out that the Wizards weren’t helping the wings in the corners, allowing Mack to get his effective floater off, and that the point guard made Washington pay for going under pick-and-roll screens.

“He was rolling tonight,” Hayward said. “It was fun to see.”

Mack admitted it was a little more special to put up his career-high in scoring against the franchise that selected him 34th in the second round of the 2011 draft.

“Yeah, it definitely felt good, especially with John being one of my close friends, just competing against him,” Mack said. “It was just great to get out there and have a great night.”

It was great timing, too. The Jazz desperately needed that win to remain relatively close (3.5 games behind Dallas) in the playoff chase.

Mack cracked a grin when asked if his big night was prompted and more rewarding due to the fact that Washington eventually cut him.

“A little bit. Everybody has a little motivation,” he said. “But they’re a great team. I respect those guys, Coach (Randy) Wittman and all those guys. It was just a different situation.”

Four years later, Mack finds himself in another different situation. It’s rare that a team in a playoff hunt trades for a new starting point guards midway through the season. The fact that he was third string at Atlanta and still leapfrogged previous Jazz starter Raul Neto and backup Trey Burke makes it all the more unusual.

Mack has had some bright spots in Utah. For one thing, he’s the only point guard to dish out eight assists this season, and he’s done it twice. He’s also had some strong scoring nights, including 18 against his old college coach, Brad Stevens, and the Celtics.

But his turnover tendency has caused problems. He’s had some really shoddy shooting nights (2-13 vs. the Hawks, for one). He’s also struggled with spacing and Utah’s altitude.

Mack said he’s spent extra time watching film with Snyder to smooth out the rough spots in pick-and-roll situations and in playing with bigs who aren’t pick-and-pop types.

His attitude?

“Keep grinding and sticking to it and great things will happen.”

Like Snyder, Hayward thinks it’s unfair that some outsiders have blamed Mack for the Jazz’s recent woes.

“You can’t put any of our wins or losses on one person. I think it’s a team sport. Especially the way we play, it’s not like we’re running isolations and guys are just standing around watching people," Hayward said. "Everybody's moving. It’s on everybody to get good shots.

"Being the point guard, I think he’s done a tremendous job for us. It’s probably a difficult task to switch 50 games into a season to a different team, different system."

Probably, but it sure worked out nicely on Friday.