Utah Jazz Extra: 5 things that have to happen to get back in the playoff picture

Published: Sunday, April 1 2012 11:25 p.m. MDT

Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson (25) raises his fist after a basket as the Utah Jazz and the Minnesota Timberwolves play Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012 in Energy Solutions arena in Salt Lake City. Jazz won 108-98.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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.

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