On Thursday morning, Utah Jazz coach Will Hardy got his players together for a light practice and walk-through before heading to Denver. Hardy told his team that he doesn’t want to be considered a surprise anymore.
“He’s tired of looking at media or even his friends telling him, ‘Wow, you guys are winning, this is crazy,’” Malik Beasley said, recounting what Hardy told the team. “It’s not crazy. We’re not even playing well and we’re still winning.”
Five games into the season the Utah Jazz have, quite frankly, shocked the league by beating three teams considered to be Western Conference playoff contenders — the Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves and New Orleans Pelicans — when nearly everyone expected the Jazz to lose more often than not.
Now 4-1 on the season, the Jazz started off their surprising run with a season-opening drubbing of the Nuggets.
The general consensus around the league, whether you ask opposing coaches, players, league analysts, pundits or even fans, is that the Nuggets — and subsequently the Wolves and Pelicans — saw the Jazz as a scheduled win and were caught off guard by their talent and will to win.
It’s been to the Jazz’s advantage that this team has so many players that have not played together before and that the scouting on Hardy’s system is limited. That they have been able to surprise teams has benefited the Jazz through the first week of games.
But now, with a bit of a reputation as a gritty team capable of more than previously predicted, albeit based on a small sample size, it’s expected that the Jazz could be up against much tougher competition.
Even with their 4-1 record, most around the league believe that these early successes by the Jazz are due to teams giving half efforts and that when teams start trying harder, the Jazz will be on the losing end of those efforts.
Hardy’s message is basically that it’s his team’s job to prove everyone wrong again, to prove that the surprises have not been fool’s gold.
“All the good teams are getting in a rhythm and we’re not even in rhythm,” Beasley said. “We’re a good team too, and that’s the message. I stand by that 100%. We’re not just a team out here just playing. We’re here to get wins.”
Their biggest test of the season comes Friday in Denver. When these teams faced off on opening night at Vivint Arena, the Jazz absolutely stunned the Nuggets, leading by as many as 24 points and pretty much running away with the win. So, Denver is going to want to get some revenge.
The Nuggets have gone 3-1 since their loss to the Jazz, including a convincing win over the reigning champion Golden State Warriors. The Jazz’s lone loss of the season was against the Houston Rockets on Monday night on the second night of a back-to-back set.
Utah Jazz head coach Will Hardy works the sideline during victory over the Houston Rockets at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News