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Takeaways from the Utah Jazz’s recent road trip

Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) goes to the basket between Utah Jazz forward Royce O’Neale (23) and center Rudy Gobert (27) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 23, 2019, in Miami.
Joel Auerbach, AP

MIAMI — The Utah Jazz (18-12) ended their three-game road trip with a loss to the Miami Heat after reeling off five straight wins, including the first two road games on this swing in Atlanta and Charlotte. While losing is never fun, the way the team played against a very good Heat squad definitely showed improvement over how they played on their previous road trip around the Thanksgiving holiday.

That trip yielded a 1-4 record and was followed up by another loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in their first game back at Vivint Arena. After some soul-searching and a few heart-to-heart talks amongst the players, the team was able to build some momentum at the expense of some of the league’s sub-.500 squads. Though Utah didn’t beat Miami, they did play much more competitively than they had previously against top-tier clubs in hostile territory.

While there aren’t necessarily moral victories in losses for teams like the Jazz who expect to compete at a high level versus elite competition, there are games that can be indicators of making true strides toward the goal of consistency in their play. For months since the season began, Utah has had stretches of solid play followed by periods of disarray and poor effort. That was not the case on this road trip.

Slow first-half starts in Atlanta and Charlotte were balanced by keen adjustments and increased effort and intensity in the second halves that eventually resulted in wins. The game in Miami was exactly what they hoped to accomplish in many ways, playing with strong effort on both ends from start to finish.

Of course, every team wants to win every game, but that isn’t realistic. However, improving incrementally as the season progresses from November to early April is what truly good teams are able to do so they can compete favorably in late April, May and June. The Jazz now know they are on the right track after a strong performance against one of the league’s best teams. They have to find the the will to keep it up from now on.

They also made some roster moves to address some shortcoming in their bench play, trading former lottery pick guard Dante Exum to Cleveland in exchange for guard Jordan Clarkson, who is currently averaging over 14 points per game in a reserve role. They also waived veteran forward Jeff Green. These latest moves show the team is not willing to stand pat in their quest to become a playoff and eventual championship contender.

With changes on the immediate horizon and others that could potentially happen if deemed necessary, the Utah Jazz are working their way toward the kind of development they covet — to one day be a team that plays with consistency, intensity and great effort from the opening tip to the final buzzer. That spirit and character was on full display over the past six days in their three stops in the southeast. It wasn’t the 3-0 sweep they had hoped for, but it was distinctly different and much better than the moribund effort they displayed just a few weeks ago when they laid a huge, turkey-sized egg around Thanksgiving.

This Christmas will be a better holiday for the team and Jazz Nation knowing they are on the path to progress. What is still to be determined is whether they can cross the bridge to NBA prosperity that only winning can get them to. Not just winning in the short term, but the kind of success that comes with sustained excellence.

Years ago, Frank Layden, Kevin O’Connor, Jerry Sloan and Larry H. Miller were able to build it. Now it’s time to see if Dennis Lindsey, Justin Zanik, Quin Snyder and Gail Miller can replicate their efforts.