Jazz started surprisingly fast in the West

DENVER (AP) A year ago, Mike Conley Jr. He was on a team that was mentioned as a championship contender. This year, the Utah Jazz is not in that conversation.

This does not change Conley’s approach.

“We try to win every day,” Conley said.

So far, Jazz has been winning more days than they’ve ever won. Two weeks into the NBA season, there are some surprises – some good, some bad, Jazz find themselves on the more fun side of this notebook.

Conley and the Jazz got off to a 6-2 start after Monday’s Memphis win. Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs are 5-2, which fits the team’s best start since they were 6-1 on their way to the NBA championship in the 2013-14 season.

If the Jazz and Spurs are playing tanks, they’re definitely doing it wrong.

Even the lure of getting the winning lottery ticket to win Victor Wembanyama, the 7-metre French teenager who often has the skills compared to Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Dirk Nowitzki, isn’t enough to make the Jazz and Spurs try and fail. earning. Just the opposite. They play hard, they play right, they play defense, and it works.

“They’re too young to know any better,” Popovich said of his crew. “They continue to play hard. … They obey the basketball gods, they do all the simple things that help to win games.”

They must be feeling pretty happy in a few other cities as well. Cleveland, like Portland, led 5-1 on Monday. The surprise is on the other side of the coin – Brooklyn 2-5 started 0-5 before the Los Angeles Lakers took their first win, and Miami enters their 2-5 game against Golden State on Tuesday. The reigning champions don’t quite set the world ablaze either, 3-4 starts.

Early. Almost an entire season left. But San Antonio and Utah have surprised just about everyone so far—that is, everyone but themselves.

“We’re just doing our job,” Conley said. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what people say.”

It was not unusual to think that the Jazz and Spurs could be among the teams vying to be among the odds favorites for Wembanyama (the last three teams each have a 14% probability of getting #1). The Spurs have an extremely young and barely-there roster of household names. Jazz spent the summer season trading their three biggest pieces in Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Bojan Bogdanovic.

“For some reason the league is going, ‘Oh, Utah is freezing because they got rid of Donovan, Rudy and Bogdanovic,'” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said recently. “Tell this to Mike Conley. Tell that to Jordan Clarkson. Tell that to Lauri Markkanen. These guys are NBA players and have played in many big games. They play hard. They go out and run and defend.”

Credit should go to Utah coach Will Hardy, whom Popovich mentored. Before Hardy spent last season as an assistant in Boston, Hardy’s lessons from his former boss Popovich in San Antonio included the art of developing relationships.

“He draws on that human element a lot,” said Hardy, who has spent 11 seasons with Popovich and the Spurs, of which five were assistant coaches. “For all his greatness in terms of an X’s and-O or in-game coaching, it’s all the things he does on the human side, between games, that sets him apart for me.”

Hardy’s team quickly grasped the structure fit part. One example: The Jazz all gathered in one room in New Orleans during a recent trip, and Malik Beasley, who was taken as part of this big end-of-season deal that sent Gobert to Minnesota, explained that “we just chilled and had fun.” It is known that they met in a group on plane trips to chat and break up the game film.

“We’ve got great weather,” Beasley added. “It will be fun to go where we want to go.”

So far in the rank is the north, not the south.

“We’re sick of people being surprised,” Beasley said. “We’re also a good team.”

According to FanDuel Sportsbook, the Jazz continue to have a great chance of an NBA title this season. The same is true for Orlando, Oklahoma City, Indiana, Houston, Sacramento, Detroit, and San Antonio. All of these clubs are the ones vying for the #1 pick and chance at Wembanyama.

Not that the Spurs and Jazz showed no interest. Or caring about what others believe. Popovich has a lot of kids playing like seasoned vets.

“I don’t think they even know what the capital of Texas is,” Popovich said. “But I don’t care.”

Added Spurs guard/forward Keldon Johnson, who was part of the team that won Olympic gold at the 2021 Tokyo Games: “We’re playing great team basketball. We heal each other. It’s fun to play basketball that way.”

AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds and AP freelance writer Mike Cranston contributed.

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