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Maybe The Utah Jazz Season Isn't Lost After All: The Downbeat #1812

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Bad calls aside, Monday's game showed reasons for optimism in Jazz country.

Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

I know I've written a seemingly inappropriately upbeat headline for this Downbeat after last night's no-call debacle. The thing is, I've been pretty low on this Jazz season since Rudy Gobert's injury. I'm not a pessimistic person by nature, but it's been hard to stay upbeat.

Even so, as much as I'd like to wrap myself in a cloak of righteous fury and wallow in the injustice of Monday's loss, I'm feeling this weird...something. I'll let you know when I figure out what to call it.

Rodney Hood is having a humdinger of a week. First he drops a career-high 32 against the Grizzlies, then he becomes a father, then he hits five out of six threes in a 23-point, seven-rebound performance on Monday. Plus the added drama of drawing a foul from James Harden on a three-point attempt to tie the game...only to miss the last of the three free throws.

I mean, I sprang back into my work schedule by decorating my office and building a TIE Fighter out of Lego while watching Awesome Games Done Quick, so maybe I'm the wrong one to judge, but the dude sounds like he's been busy.

The better news for Jazz fans is that Hood has apparently found the Nerdlucks who snatched his three-point shooting and beaten them senseless, because in his last three games he's 14-23 (61 percent) from long range. Couple that with his career night versus Memphis and his improved assist and rebound totals, and we might finally be seeing the Rodney Hood who looked so promising after last year's All-Star break.

On top of that -- and this isn't quantifiable, just my observation -- Hood seems more confident lately. He's always been willing to take an open three, even in his worst slumps, but he seemed off otherwise -- a step slow on defensive rotations, a little less sure of his movement on offense, more passive and less aggressive.

That hasn't been the case lately. When the Jazz lined up for their final inbounds play on Monday, I felt certain the ball would end up in Hood's hands. In fairness, this was partially because the Rockets did better work in the second half denying Gordon Hayward the ball. But it was more than that. I think Rodney WANTS the ball on the final possession now, the way Alec Burks does, the way many great scorers do.

Not that I'm leaping to any premature delusions about Hood's prowess. I just think it's an encouraging sign. And I think it's a recent change in his confidence level and his attitude.

Hood was a streaky player last year, too, so it's too soon to make any sweeping declarations. But his performance was a big reason why I wasn't TOO angry after Monday's loss.

Two other players had great games last night, at a time when the Jazz really needed them: Jeff Withey and Trey Lyles.

With Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors both missing extended time last month, Withey has begun to flourish. In the eight games when the Kansas big man has played at least 20 minutes, he has averaged 9.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks. To put that in perspective: before his injury, Rudy Gobert was averaging 9.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game this season. That's...way closer than I expected, small sample size notwithstanding.

So how is Big Jeff pulling this off? This is going to sound stereotypical, given that he's a big white dude...but it's his fundamentals. Check out this play, Withey's flashiest of the night:

Now, a lot of this is down to poor defense on the part of James Harden and Dwight Howard. But Withey sees it coming the whole way. He knows Dwight is giving him space, because Withey isn't a shooting threat. Harden is weakly chasing Hood from behind, and Withey knows he won't catch up in time to make a switch on a screen. So he hands off to Hood, but he stays high instead of running straight to the hoop. This serves the double purpose of sealing out Harden's (nonexistent) recovery and freezing Howard, who now has to try to show out on Hood. Withey waits until he sees Hood rise for the shot, sucking Howard in, then flashes down the lane (which has been cleared by good off-ball movement from Gordon Hayward). By the time Terence Jones tries to rotate over, Withey is dunking on his head.

Again, that's in large part due to really poor Rockets defense. But it's also the sign of a smart player, one who knows how to read what's in front of him, seal on dribble-handoffs, and wait until the defense commits before rolling. I think Jeff Withey has proven he deserves more minutes, even when Rudy returns.

As for Trey Lyles, the young Wildcat has more to prove. Monday's performance was a career high, as Lyles notched 13 points on 6-10 shooting (including one three-pointer) along with four rebounds in 22 minutes. Not stellar numbers, but better than we've seen so far. Before tonight, Lyles' counting stats haven't really improved with increased playing time, but he is up to 8-20 (40 percent) on three-pointers for the season, and he's moving around better on the court -- he looks less lost than he did at the start of the year.

Before the Memphis game, I had serious doubts about Trey Lyles' future as an NBA-caliber player based on the evidence. Saturday and Monday showed me a bit of what Lyles could be if he does manage to stick. I'm still not fully convinced, but I'm more hopeful than I was before.

If there's any good to be taken from this brutal stretch, it's that these injuries have allowed the Jazz to accelerate the development of these young players. Or at least find out what they're capable of.

Back to Rodney Hood for our featured FanPost this week, courtesy of bjtninetynine:

One of the bright spots for Rodney Hood is his ball handling to set up a mid-range jump shot. The lefty can go right or left and hit the mid-range jump shot at an above average clip. When Rodney gets a screen at the angle three point line, or at the elbow, he has the ability to transition his way to the basket, oft times freezing the defender allowing him to hit that shot. There might be a possibility to set up other players and assist on a shot for them.

Good stuff in there, so click through. Thanks, friend!

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Another weird little subplot from last night's game: play stopped for a few minutes at the end of the third quarter, as James Harden claimed a fan was shining a laser pointer in his eye at the foul line. Via KSL/Salt City Hoops frenemy Andy Larsen:

That fan was escorted out by security for "aiming a flash light at a player", and was banned from entering an NBA game for 1 calendar year. Rockets head coach J.B. Bickerstaff was also assessed a technical foul, for reasons that weren't clear. All in all, the break took about two minutes.

Harden said this about the play, "Some guy was lasering me. I saw it the first time and I thought it was a picture being taken. I went to the foul line again and it happened again. The referee caught it before I did. That's the first time that happened to me."

Obviously, fans should not try to blind NBA players when they're on the court: it's dangerous and impacts play. I'm unclear, though, on how security will ban the fan from entering NBA arenas moving forward.

Don't point lasers at people's eyes, kids.

(But seriously, that isn't cool. Utah fans get a bad rap as it is. Don't be That Guy.)

In honor of Trey Lyles' career night, via the inimitable @jashin_mizuho: