SALT LAKE CITY — It's only the first day of February — go flip your calendar — but the Utah Jazz already have April, May and June on their minds.
More like playoff fever.
Yep, making the postseason is on the to-do list of this team that few expected to amount to much of anything and that only has two players remaining on it from the last Jazz playoff qualifier (waaaay back in 2010).
Skeptics can say what they will — and point out that the Jazz have only played six of their 33 road games, that inconsistencies still exist, that inexistent outside shooting will eventually haunt them, that the NBA Draft Lottery awaits that ... blah, blah, blah.
Despite doubts and disses, this team believes it belongs — not only in the postseason conversation but, yes, in the postseason.
That's why Utah's playoff quest was a popular subject in the locker room Monday following the 93-89 comeback win over Portland.
"We realized what we were playing for. We're playing for the playoffs," Jazz guard Earl Watson said. "This (was) not just another game. ...
"We all know in this league after January the season flies by, so this game was epic. It was monumental. It was big for us to get some space. This whole week is an amazing week, amazing opportunities for us to climb up in the Western Conference."
Next on the 12-7 Jazz's amazing checklist: the high-flying, 12-6 Los Angeles Clippers tonight in an ESPN-televised showdown.
"Every game means more and more. Each game is huge for us, especially at home," Jazz point guard Devin Harris said. "We've got to have these games. With the Clippers being in town and them being above us in the standings, it carries a little bit more weight."
The Jazz realize the scary part about this rematch is that the Clippers, no doubt, have a score to settle after being blown out 108-79 in Utah just two weeks ago. And L.A. will have standout playmakers Chris Paul and Mo Williams this time around.
Utah, meanwhile, will be without either one or two starters. Defensive catalyst Raja Bell has been ruled out for a second straight game with a strained right adductor, and leading scorer Al Jefferson will be a game-time decision because of his inflamed right ankle.
Jazz small forward Josh Howard called the Portland win a playoff-like "statement game." He considers tonight's Clippers contest a "motivational game." Almost three months remain in this irregular season, but the Jazz need to hold serve at EnergySolutions Arena where they've already stumbled three times, including a tough-to-swallow, double-overtime loss to Toronto.
"We've got to hold our home court down again," Howard said.
Tough part will be staying in the top eight, especially with 23 of their next 34 games being on the road after tonight's tilt.
"We have an opportunity to make it. The guys know that they're going to work extremely hard every night to have a chance to make the playoffs," Corbin said. "You look at how the West is, it's going to be a tight race all the way down to the end. It's going to take a lot of wins to get in there."
That raises the level of importance for these games against fellow contenders in front of the Jazz faithful (on non-Jimmer nights). After all, the Jazz are in the No. 5 spot now, but they're just one game ahead of ninth-place Houston (12-9) on the outside-looking-in spot. Even No. 11 Minnesota (10-11) is only three games back.
"We have to make sure we take care of our business now. We can't afford to let games slip away from us," Corbin continued. "We can't afford to have lapses in what we're doing, so we have to continue to grow and stay together and continue to win games."
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