DENVER (AP) — A 12 months in the past, Mike Conley Jr. was on a group talked about as a championship contender. This 12 months, the Utah Jazz aren’t in that dialog.
That doesn’t change Conley’s strategy.
“We’re trying to win every day,” Conley stated.
So far, the Jazz are profitable extra days than not. And two weeks into the NBA season, there are some surprises — some good, some unhealthy, with the Jazz discovering themselves on the extra enjoyable aspect of that ledger.
Conley and the Jazz are off to a 6-2 begin after Monday’s win over Memphis. Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs are 5-2, which matches the group’s finest begin since they had been 6-1 on the best way to profitable the NBA title within the 2013-14 season.
If the Jazz and Spurs had been tanking, they’re positively doing it flawed.
Not even the lure of touchdown the profitable lottery ticket that may present 7-foot-3 French teen Victor Wembanyama — who has expertise typically in comparison with Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Dirk Nowitzki — is sufficient to get the Jazz and Spurs to attempt to not win. Quite the opposite. They’re taking part in exhausting, taking part in the fitting method, taking part in protection and it’s working.
“They’re young enough they don’t know any better,” Popovich stated of his squad. “They just keep playing hard. … They’re pretty much obeying the basketball gods, doing all the simple things that help win games.”
They needs to be feeling fairly pleased in a pair different cities, too. Cleveland was 5-1 getting into Monday, as was Portland. On the flip aspect of the shock coin — Brooklyn was 2-5, the Los Angeles Lakers began 0-5 earlier than getting their first win, and Miami is 2-5 getting into a recreation Tuesday in opposition to Golden State. The reigning champs aren’t precisely setting the world ablaze both, off to a 3-4 begin.
It’s early. There’s nearly a complete season left to go. But San Antonio and Utah are shocking nearly all people thus far — nicely, all people besides themselves.
“We just do our job,” Conley stated. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what people say.”
It wasn’t unusual to suppose the Jazz and Spurs may be among the many groups that vie to be among the many odds-on favorites for Wembanyama (the underside three groups every have a 14% chance to land the No 1 decide). The Spurs are extraordinarily younger and have a lineup consisting of hardly family names. The Jazz spent the summer time buying and selling away three of their largest items in Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Bojan Bogdanovic.
“For some reason, the league goes, ‘Oh, Utah is tanking because they got rid of Donovan and Rudy and Bogdanovic,’” Nuggets coach Michael Malone not too long ago stated. “Tell Mike Conley that. Tell Jordan Clarkson that. Tell Lauri Markkanen that. Those guys are NBA players and have played in a lot of big games. They’re playing hard. They’re getting out and running and they’re defending.”
Credit ought to go to Utah coach Will Hardy, who was mentored by Popovich. Among the teachings Hardy picked up from Popovich — his former boss in San Antonio, earlier than Hardy spent final season as an assistant in Boston — was the artwork of fostering relationships.
“He taps into that human element very, very well,” stated Hardy, who spent 11 seasons with Popovich and the Spurs, together with 5 as an assistant coach. “For all of his greatness from an X’s-and-O’s standpoint or an in-game coaching standpoint, it’s all the stuff he does in-between games, on the human side, that for me separates him.”
Hardy’s group has shortly picked up on the constructing cohesion half. An illustration: The Jazz all not too long ago gathered in a room in New Orleans throughout a visit and “just chilled, and had fun,” defined Malik Beasley, who was acquired as a part of the large deal this offseason that despatched Gobert to Minnesota. On airplane rides, they’ve been identified meet in a gaggle to talk and break down recreation movie.
“We have a great vibe,” Beasley added. “It’s going to be fun to go to where we want to go to.”
Which, thus far, is north within the standings, not south.
“We’re tired of people being surprised,” Beasley stated. “We’re a good team, too.”
The Jazz stay an enormous longshot to win the NBA title this season, in accordance with FanDuel Sportsbook. The identical applies to Orlando, Oklahoma City, Indiana, Houston, Sacramento, Detroit and San Antonio. All of these golf equipment are those anticipated to be within the working for the No. 1 decide and the possibility at Wembanyama.
Not that the Spurs and Jazz have been paying any consideration. Or caring what others imagine. Popovich has a bunch of youngsters taking part in like seasoned vets.
“I don’t think they even know what the capital of Texas is,” Popovich cracked. “But I don’t care.”
Added Spurs guard/ahead Keldon Johnson, who was a part of the group that received Olympic gold on the Tokyo Games in 2021: “We’re playing great team basketball. We’re making each other better. It’s fun playing basketball that way.”
AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds and AP freelance author Mike Cranston contributed.
AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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