PORTLAND, Ore. — A week ago, the playoffs almost seemed like a sure thing for the Utah Jazz.
They had won six straight games and vaulted into playoff positioning. They were even closing in on the No. 4 spot and home-court advantage in the first round.
Then, Atlanta happened.
The four-overtime loss knocked the Jazz off their playoff perch. Sure, adrenaline kicked in the next night and they beat one of the worst NBA teams at New Jersey, but theyve since dropped three games in a row.
Fortunately for the Jazz, time is still on their side. They can still make up plenty of ground, and fairly quickly.
Here are five things the Jazz need to happen in order to get back into the playoff picture:
1. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SCHEDULE
Monday night's game at the Rose Garden ends a grueling two-month stretch in which 22 of the Jazz's 34 games were on the road. Yet, Utah is still within reaching distance of the playoffs after surviving the roughest part of the season.
Seven of Utah's remaining 13 games are against non-playoff teams. Seven of the remaining games are at home.
Even better, the Jazz only have two back-to-backs left.
They didn't use being tired as an excuse this weekend, but that contradicted what their heavy legs looked like in recent games. The every-other-day pattern will be a welcome break.
"We'll go back to work," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We've got to figure it out, get some rest and take care of our bodies and be ready to go up in Portland and get a win."
Utah also plays three of the four teams directly above them at least one more time (except Denver). So the Jazz have to place extra emphasis on those games against Houston, Memphis and Dallas.
"It's a heavy schedule, but we're not weary at all," Jazz forward Paul Millsap said. "It's just more getting down to the nitty-gritty, doing what we do. We just haven't been focused in the first quarters of games."
2. WIN ON THE ROAD
Every team in the NBA has on occasional slip-up against subpar opposition, but the Jazz have made it tough on themselves with their road struggles. Being 8-19 outside of Utah makes home stumbles like Friday's loss to Sacramento all the more damaging.
Realistically, the Jazz have to dig deep over the next three weeks to pick up multiple wins at Portland, San Antonio, Houston, New Orleans and/or Memphis to have a shot at the postseason.
Their recent pattern isn't going to cut it, either.
In Atlanta, the Jazz trailed by as many 18 points before charging back to force overtime (times four). Utah again found itself in an 18-point hole in Boston, but then stormed back to tie the contest before running out of steam.
That same scenario took place in Saturday's setback when the Jazz gave the Clippers a 19-point head start. Eventually, they got back to within four, but sputtered after that.
That hasn't led to wins, and it takes a physical and emotional toll on a team.
"It's tough because you can't get down like that to a good team," Millsap said. "We can always fight back, we can try to keep ourselves in the game no matter what, but we've got to control the first quarter."
3. BE MORE AGGRESSIVE
This goes from Gordon Hayward and C.J. Miles on the wings to Al Jefferson and Millsap on the interior. Utah is a much better team when it attacks first instead of responding to opponents' assertiveness.
Utah needs more aggression everywhere, from fighting through pick-and-rolls and hustling on rotations on defense to being more physical and effective inside on offense.
Utah can't have many more games like the Sacramento one in which it was outscored in the paint (its area of strength) by double-digits. The Jazz did a better job of controlling the inside Saturday, but that came at a cost of opening up the exterior for wide-open perimeter shots that the Clippers hit.
"This group of guys has shown a lot resiliency all year long. We'll continue to fight," Corbin said. "We'll come back and we'll get it figured out."
The Jazz think that has to happen most on the defense.
"The players got to play," Millsap said. "We got to get up and guard guys."
Added Devin Harris: "Defensively when we come out and communicate and come out in that first quarter and establish ourselves, we tend to do well, especially on the road. When we don't, nights like (Saturday) happen."
Utah is also 20-10 when it outrebounds opponents.
4. MORE CONSISTENCY
Players and coaches need this now more than ever — from playing, smart substituting, play calling, staying emotionally stable, etc.
When the team was clicking in the past few weeks, Harris was playing at the top of his game. His recent struggles have coincided with the team's downslide.
But the Jazz's floor general isn't the only one who's been inconsistent of late.
Alec Burks and Hayward have been scoring, but their shooting percentages are erratic at times. Miles has been more miss than hit lately.
Utah has also experienced a drop off in production from backup bigs Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.
Corbin is reluctant to play them big minutes because of the extra pressure and lack of experience, but Jefferson — and to a lesser extent Millsap — can only carry so much of the load.
The Jazz have consistently proven they are a better team when they execute, play in rhythm and spread the ball out. Their record when they have more assists than their foes is 20-9 compared to 5-17 when they get outassisted.
"At times we lean on (Jefferson) a little bit too much. We need to mix it up a little bit more and give him a break some," Corbin said. But, the coach added, "He's been tremendous all year just wanting to the ball and making the right plays for us."
5. STAY TOGETHER
The Jazz have already lost two of its key cogs to injuries in veterans Raja Bell and Josh Howard, hurting them in depth, experience and leadership.
And it's tough to maintain a positive attitude in losing streaks.
But team chemistry has remained relatively high all season even with the ups and downs, and in the aftermath of Saturday's latest setback, Utah players were committed to bouncing back after falling in three straight games.
"We've got to continue to look at the positive side of it. We're right there," Millsap said. "We've just got to get a few more wins and other teams have got to get a few more losses to get back into it."
Miles' positive pronouncement on Twitter is the type of optimism that can only help the team as it seeks to regain a postseason berth.
"Good meeting this morning and practice (with) team," Miles wrote. "WE ARE GOING TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS "
at Portland, Monday, 8 p.m., Root
Miss Wesley Matthews? Utah will get more than its fair share of him and J.J. Hickson (yes, he's a Blazer) with three more meetings.
vs. Suns, Wednesday, 7 p.m., Root
Miss Ronnie Price? Utah will actually get a chance to see the former Jazz/Utah Valley player a couple more times — if he plays, that is.
vs. Warriors, Friday, 7 p.m., Root
If you don't think the Warriors are trying to tank to keep their top pick away from Utah, let's discuss a deal for this bridge in the Bay area.16 comments on this story
at San Antonio, Sunday, 5 p.m., Root
Maybe the Spurs will give their senior citizens at least one day off as they play back-to-back in Texas and Utah.
The big stat
23 Forget his historically bad 0-for-13 night. Derrick Favors became the youngest player in franchise history to score more than 20 points in a game when he dropped 23 points with 17 rebounds against Golden State on March 17.