NEW ORLEANS — It isn’t unusual for NBA coaches to shower their opponents with praise leading up to games.
While much of what a coach says about opposing players certainly has merit, there’s no doubt some of the extra-flowery compliments are said to avoid bulletin-board material.
Memphis coach Dave Joerger was no exception recently when he spoke glowingly about the future of the Utah Jazz, summing it up by saying, “They’ve got good players that are going to be good.”
Moments after his team rallied to beat the Jazz late Wednesday night, Joerger took another opportunity to publicly adulate Utah players.
And with good reason.
Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter couldn’t help their struggling team maintain a lead against a solid Grizzlies squad, but the Jazz bigs more than held their own against Memphis’ imposing frontcourt of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in the 91-87 setback.
“They competed. When you look at Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, they tried to say to Marc and Zach, ‘We’re the new bigs on the block and we’re coming,’ ” Joerger said. “They were fantastic all game long and especially in the first half. Very active, very aggressive. (They were) going to the rim, scoring around the basket and getting offensive rebounds.”
Joerger then reiterated his projection for the Jazz, saying, “They’re going to be a good team going forward.”
Both young bigs had double-doubles Wednesday. The 6-10 Favors scored 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while 6-11 Kanter contributed 15 boards and 11 points.
Oh, by the way, it’s not just opposing coaches who are high on this developing duo.
“They got some guys, Kanter and Favors, they’re going to be All-Stars,” said two-time All-Star Randolph, who had 22 points, 13 rebounds and made the clinching free throws Wednesday. “They’ve got a great upside.”
This might be a good time for this reminder: Kanter, who’s averaging 12.6 points and 10.6 rebounds in March, is only 21 years old; and Favors, who’s tallied 12.9 points, 8.4 boards and 1.5 blocks this month, is just 22.
While Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are having success with their new teams in the East, the Jazz are finally seeing the future come into focus with their younger pals in Utah.
“I saw a lot of growth. I thought Enes and Derrick came back and fought hard,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said of Wednesday’s game. “Although Zach had 10 points in that fourth quarter, I thought they fought him hard for everything he got. He made some tough shots. We made a couple of mistakes down the stretch, though. It cost us a little bit. But I am pleased with the way the guys came back and fought tonight.”
Likewise, Corbin is pleased with the progress Favors and Kanter have made this season. For a long stretch of the season, the coach didn’t play them together because of spacing and chemistry issues.
It hasn’t shown in the wins column, but Favors and Kanter are complementing each other better while starting side by side recently.
Favors came out especially strong Wednesday, scoring 10 in the first quarter to help Utah establish a 25-17 lead over a Grizzlies team that’s fighting for a playoff spot.
“On Monday I played a terrible game. I feel like I kind of let my teammates down. I just missed shots and it affected my whole game,” Favors said of his 1-for-5, four-point night in the 114-94 loss to Detroit.
“(On Wednesday), I just wanted to come out and be aggressive. We knew we were playing a good team. We just wanted to come out and play hard. I wanted to play aggressive from the jump. I knew Zach Randolph was going to be aggressive from the get-go, so I just wanted to come out and get myself going early.”
Favors will have to match or exceed that intensity to have success when the Jazz visit the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night. Second-year big man Anthony Davis is the NBA’s most-overlooked superstar-in-the-making.
The Unibrow has averaged 30.0 points, 13.3 rebounds, 3.1 blocks and 1.2 steals in the past 10 games for New Orleans.
“Anthony Davis is a good player,” Favors said. “It will be a challenge playing against him. He’s an All-Star this year.”
Favors smiled when asked if he gets extra motivated to play against the elite guys like Davis.
“I look forward to everybody, anybody,” Favors said. “I don’t care who it is, Anthony Davis, Zach Randolph, Dirk (Nowitzki). I look forward to anybody.”