Tempered optimism abounds in the New Year even though we're only five games into the regular season. Jazz fans, myself not excluded, are notorious for being on one extreme or the other. Usually both extremes are without merit but so far this season, it might be justified. The three losses have been by an average of almost 20 points per game while the two wins have averaged a 3.5 point margin. It's no coincidence that the two wins have come at home where the team appears to have more energy than on the road. Granted they've also played three of the top teams in the West so far away from the ESA, but they haven't really been in any of them.
So now the team hits January where they will be sleeping in hotel rooms for only three nights. However, few, if any, of the home games could be considered gimmees. On paper, the Cavs, Nets, and Kings should be games that the Jazz win. After that you have the Lakers, Mavericks, and Blazers that don't have problems winning on the road. The rest of the home schedule is filled with games that could go either way.
There will be ups and downs at home still no matter the perfect record so far. The one quality win -- even though I know this isn't the BCS -- was against a good 76ers team. Philly is ranked high so far this season in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The win against New Orleans though -- while still a win -- was one that should have been by a bigger margin. Eric Gordon was out and it was Jarrett Jack and Jason Smith who almost stole the show. That shouldn't happen at home.
So like I've been rehashing for the past month or so, don't let expectations go wild either way. It's likely that the Jazz aren't as bad as they seem but they're not as good as they would appear either. At least wait two to three more weeks before making judgements on this team.
I think we're seeing Raja Bell being slowly phased out which should please 99.9% of the fanbase. He hasn't broken 20 minutes since the first game of the season and hasn't been on the floor late in the game. Corbin has elected to go with CJ Miles or Josh Howard to close out games.
The next move will come with him coming off the bench. He won't be regulated to the 13th man, but if he averages more than 15 minutes a game for the rest of the month, I'd be surprised. In David Locke's post, he talks about why this hasn't been done already. One of the reasons he gives is that nobody has taken the job from him. I would argue that while CJ, Hayward, and Howard don't have the best numbers, they're far and away better than what Raja has put up. And like I said when I commented on Locke's post, it's really a continuation of last season. A lot of players have gotten off to slow starts because of the hectic season, but we expect most of them to bounce back. With Raja, I'm not sure.
With his playing time likely to become more limited, where does he get the chance to improve? I would love if he becomes a semi-effective player off the bench and in certain capacities but with Hayward, Howard, and CJ all outplaying him, not to mention Alec Burks demanding (through his play of course) more minutes, where does he fit in? He has nowhere to go but up from his current numbers, but how much more effective can he be?
Are fans coming around on Josh Howard? One of the best things about Jazz fans is that even with players that have what might be considered character issues, they'll rally around players that play hard and just flat out play basketball. Howard's never met a shot that he didn't like, but he took two charges in last night's game against the Hornets that will help endear himself to fans.
He's also getting to the free-throw line at a career-rate. While his shooting percentage has been low, he's been going to the stripe five times a game -- seven times per 36 minutes -- and his 23 of 24 on the year. If his shot comes around, he's going to be a great pickup. Even if it doesn't, if he keeps getting to the line at the rate he is now, he'll still be a good pickup.
Tuesday trivia... Can you list the top five scorers so far for the Jazz in order by total points? Answer after the jump.