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Utah Jazz have best record in NBA after beating Mavericks, but they’re chasing something bigger

Even without Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors in the lineup Wednesday night, Jazz displayed resolve, team depth in extending win streak to 10 games

Utah Jazz forward Royce O’Neale (23) blocks Dallas Mavericks forward Wes Iwundu (25) at the rim as the Utah Jazz and the Dallas Mavericks play an NBA basketball game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. Jazz won 116-104.
Utah Jazz forward Royce O’Neale blocks Dallas Mavericks forward Wes Iwundu at the rim as the Jazz and Mavericks play at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. The Jazz won 116-104.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The 14-4 Utah Jazz won their 10th straight game Wednesday night and with the help of Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris, hitting a game-winning shot to beat the Los Angeles Lakers, the Jazz moved into the top spot in the Western Conference with the best record in the league, and they did it on a night when they were without the services of Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors.

As Jazz fans rejoiced and posted screenshots of the league standings across social media, the Jazz roster played things a little more on the cool side, seemingly unimpressed with assuming the top spot in the NBA.

“I don’t really care,” Jazz forward Joe Ingles said about the win streak and the team’s position in the standings. “I mean it’s great to be winning games, and obviously we’re playing it at a high level, but I just don’t think we’re satisfied. I think we just want to keep pushing ... 10, 20, 30, losing, winning streak or whatever it is, we’ve just got to keep pushing, keep getting better each day.”

Rather than find contentment in their efforts through the first quarter of the regular season and perhaps become complacent, the Jazz are trying to manage expectations by thinking only as far as the next game, while keeping in mind the larger goal — earn home-court advantage in the playoffs and make a run for a title.

“I don’t even think we’re looking at the record right now,” Jordan Clarkson said. “We’re just trying to find every little thing that we can do to get better, smaller details, just everything. I think we’re just in a flow right now and we’re going to continue to play hard.”

Playing hard required a bit of adjusting Wednesday, the second night of a back-to-back and first of two consecutive games against the Dallas Mavericks. The Jazz were without Mitchell, who suffered a concussion Tuesday night against the Knicks, and Favors, who is dealing with a sore lower back.

The injuries moved Ingles into the starting unit, and gave Miye Oni, Juwan Morgan and Georges Niang larger roles coming off the bench.

Despite any fears that anyone on the outside might have had about the second-unit defense suffering without Favors anchoring things, or the overall offense suffering without the Jazz’s leading scorer on the court, the Jazz acquitted themselves in dominating fashion.

“We believe in every single guy in this locker room,” Rudy Gobert said after the 116-104 win. “There’s a lot of guys that should get more minutes, but the minutes are not there. They would get minutes anywhere else. ... On nights like tonight when we’re missing some guys, Miye, Georges and Juwan have an opportunity to come in and have a great impact, and that’s what they did tonight.”

The Jazz have been one of the few teams that has made it this far in the season without having COVID-19 significantly impact the roster or injuries force lineup moves. So while Tuesday’s game was a test of being able to punch back after coming out slow against the Knicks, Wednesday’s game tested the Jazz’s depth.

Through the course of a season, and particularly this season, when there are so many variables that could impact a team, winning games in different ways, with different lineups and different players rising up to the challenge, is important. These games give the seldom-used players confidence that they can come in and make a difference, and these games give the core players the confidence the team will be able to survive no matter the circumstances.

“It’s a long year and this is a grueling season,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “There’s going to be nights where you’re not at full strength.”

So without Mitchell and Favors, Ingles, Clarkson and Gobert all turned in season-high scoring efforts with Ingles adding eight assists to his 21 points, Gobert racking up 20 rebounds to go with his 29 points and Clarkson picking up seven rebounds and a game-high 31 points while asserting himself on the defensive end.

And don’t be fooled by the box score, which shows that Niang finished with three points while Oni and Juwan didn’t score at all. All three were pivotal on the defensive end, whether it was forcing the Mavericks into tough shots in a zone setup or rotating with ease and pushing the break on other possessions.

“It’s probably the first time since I’ve been here that I’ve seen that much focus from every single one in this locker room,” Gobert said after the game. “I really feel like we’re playing for something bigger, that we are on a mission.”

As other teams around the league grapple with egos from their star players, trade requests, infighting and other distractions, the Jazz are one of the few teams that seem to be playing with joy.

“It’s almost like we get more happy when we get our teammates a shot than we get from scoring the ball, to be honest with you,” Clarkson said. “It’s just a crazy feeling and a crazy vibe.”

Winning obviously helps with all the good vibes buzzing through the Jazz roster, but they haven’t really changed their tune from earlier in the season when they started the year 4-4 and lost two in a row on the road to Brooklyn and New York.

The Jazz have remained steadfast in their belief that no win or loss should knock them away from their focus of learning from every game and moving on to the next one.

In this case, the next one will again be against the Mavericks as the Jazz look to close out their homestand with another win Friday before heading to Denver and facing the Nuggets on Sunday.