Favors trade paying off for playoff-bound Jazz

Associated Press  |  Last updated April 27, 2012
Mark Eaton still holds the NBA's single-season shot-blocking record and he had powerful dunks to match. Yet, there are times the retired Jazz defender sits in awe watching Utah second-year pro Derrick Favors. ''I did that once, but it was only a dream,'' Eaton said after seeing Favors' reverse jam in traffic against Orlando last week. ''He's still a young player trying to find his way, but he has these moments that are spectacular and give you a glimpse of somewhat untapped potential.'' While Favors' quiet, unassuming nature may mask his fire, his emergence is one of the big reasons the overachieving Jazz are in the playoffs for the 25th time in franchise history. They faded last year following the retirement of Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan and a trade that sent superstar Deron Williams to the New Jersey Nets. Jazz big man Al Jefferson called the 6-foot-10 Favors, who was acquired along with Devin Harris for Williams, a ''beast.'' ''He does so many wonderful things and his confidence is getting better and better and that's scary. He's got a chance to be one of the best players in this league one day,'' Jefferson said. It helps that Favors no longer is living out of a suitcase, or hearing his name tossed about in daily trade rumors - two things that happened last year before Jazz ownership signed off on the blockbuster deal. ''It was tough, not knowing where I was going to be, living in a hotel,'' said Favors, who is from Atlanta, played a season at Georgia Tech and was a Net the first 60 games of his NBA career. ''It messes with you mentally. You feel like you're not wanted. But now I'm happy. I'm in a better place where I can stay.'' Favors won't turn 21 until July and is one of four Jazz players 22 or younger - all lottery picks who contribute, whether it's starting or providing a spark off the bench. Seven of Utah's players have never seen the postseason, a stark contrast to first-round opponent San Antonio, whose players have 597 games of combined playoff experience. Unlike the Spurs, who have an All-Star in Tony Parker, a two-time NBA MVP in Tim Duncan and sixth man standout Manu Ginobili, the Jazz are devoid of stars. Al Jefferson is the biggest name, though he is playing his first postseason game since 2005. The rest are pieces of the puzzle assembled by Jazz brass and molded by Tyrone Corbin, who will be coaching only his 95th game, and first in the postseason, Sunday in San Antonio. Paul Millsap was considered trade bait early but has fueled Utah's Big 3 lineup by stepping out to small forward at times. Gordon Hayward was booed by Jazz fans when he was drafted two years ago but has stepped up his game since moving to shooting guard because of injuries there. Harris looked lost trying to replace a perennial All-Star at point guard but now is playing with confidence, speed and desire. And DeMarre Carroll has started the last nine games after being cast off in February by Denver. Add in two more castoffs in Josh Howard and Jamaal Tinsley, and rookies Enes Kanter and Alec Burks, and the Jazz have a team with great chemistry and energy, though maybe not enough experience to challenge a Spurs squad still mad about last year's first-round exit. ''I don't ever want to sound like I told you so, but at the beginning of the year I think we talked about it not being a rebuilding year,'' Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said. ''We just felt that we were better than everyone else thought we were and it's nice to come out and prove it. You have to prove it on the court. I think we did.'' While Corbin's use of the Big Three lineup hinged on Millsap's willingness to move down to small forward, it wouldn't have worked without Favors stepping up his game. Favors became the youngest player in Jazz history to score 20-plus points during his 23-point, 17-rebound effort against Golden State on March 17. In a playoff-clinching win over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday, he had a career-high five blocks in the first half alone. He enters the postseason second on the team in blocks with 65 and first in dunks with 68. He would have had at least one more jam but missed late in the fourth quarter against Phoenix. While the Jazz have figured out a way to get Favors on the floor more, now they have to figure out how to keep him out of foul trouble. Corbin hopes the ticky-tack fouls decrease as Favors gains more recognition and officiating crews see what an athlete with a 7-foot-4 wingspan and 9-foot-2 standing reach can do. ''The referees are learning he can cover from here to there and block a shot and not foul a guy,'' Corbin said. ''The play looks so freaky, (refs) at times don't think he can make it. Well, he can make that play.'' Favors insisted he never has felt pressure, whether it was as a top college recruit, No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 draft, or now that he'll be facing the Spurs. ''He'll be ready and I think they'll be intimidated,'' Jefferson said of the Spurs. The ever-humble Favors wouldn't go that far. ''I know they're a good team, got a great coach and great players, but I don't get intimidated,'' he said simply. That's about as self-assured as the 20-year-old can be. Just don't expect to see him get a big head. ''I can't,'' Favors said. ''It's not in my personality.'' That makes fans like Eaton, who blocked 456 shots during the 1984-85 season, want to watch even more. ''You got to love guys who let their game talk for them,'' Eaton said.
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