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Utah facing important week of games

Published: Monday, March 12 2012 11:19 p.m. MDT

Gordon Hayward, of Utah, right, talks with Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin.

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SALT LAKE CITY — This coming weekend, the Utah Jazz and their fans may very well look back and say, "That was the week that was."

Indeed, when it comes to Utah's quest to make this year's NBA playoffs and it's all said and done at the end of the season, this could very well be "the week that was."

After all, the Jazz face four very winnable games this week, and it may be their best opportunity to make a move up in the standings.

No, it's not quite do-or-die, backs-against-the-wall, make-or-break time yet. But this week could certainly go a long way in deciding whether the Jazz are really contenders or pretenders when it comes to reaching postseason play.

"The week that was" started with Monday night's game against the Detroit Pistons, a 105-90 Utah win. That'll be followed by a road game on Wednesday against the Phoenix Suns, followed by two more home games against beatable teams, the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Golden State Warriors, on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.

"This is a very important week, considering we have a lot of home games," point guard Earl Watson said. "We play a lot of teams who are fighting for the same thing as us. Basically we're all fighting for that 8th spot, and at the end of the week anyone could possibly end up being the 6th or 7th seed.

GETTING BETTER ALL THE TIME: Asked about the continuing progress of Gordon Hayward, Corbin seemed please with Utah's young up-and-comer.

"He's learning, especially on the road, how different the road and home thing is when you don't have the support of your home fans," Corbin said, "and how you have to prepare yourself a little bit differently and be more ready to go right from beginning of the bell instead of working your way into it — on the road especially.

"But I think he's made strides. He's learned defensively how to be more physical, get his hands on guys and use his body at times. We can put the ball in his hands at times to make plays for us on the offensive end, and he's great off the ball at being able to catch and go in short spaces. So I think he's making great progress."

In recent games, Hayward has bounced back and forth between starting and coming off the bench. But the 6-foot-8 small forward, who turns 22 years old in less than two weeks, said his mindset is always the same — to do what he can to help the team win.

"I approach each game the same," Hayward said. "You try to control what you can control, and that's how you play when you're on the court. Whether or not you're coming off the bench or whether or not you're starting, that doesn't affect how you approach the game or how you play when you're in the game. I'm just trying to help the team get a win.

NO DANCING THIS YEAR: Hayward, who two years ago led Butler University to its first-ever Final Four berth and the first of back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Tournament's title game, was disappointed — but not surprised — when his beloved Bulldogs did not make the tourney field this year.

"Butler's not in, so I don't really care," he said as far as picking a favorite for this year's NCAA title. "I can't get that interested in it.

"I love Butler and I love those guys, but they just didn't play well enough to deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament this year. They need to use this as motivation going into the summer. And, to me, it's unacceptable — they've got to make the tournament every year."

email: rhollis@desnews.com

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