Utah Jazz: You wouldn't know lockout's over based on Jazz's busy schedule
Ravell Call, Deseret News
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — On the wall of the Utah Jazz's home locker room, players are informed of their team's playoff status by a dry-erase board that has the Western Conference standings scribbled on it.
Gordon Hayward referenced the visual reminder when asked if the Jazz feel like they're in a good position considering the extra degree of difficulty attached to the schedule they've played so far in the 2012-13 season.
Currently, the Jazz are 18-18, a mark that puts them smack in the middle of mediocrity but only two games out of playoff positioning.
"It'd be nice to not be on the edge like that," Hayward admitted after his 27-point stellar showing in Monday's 100-94 win. "We're working every day to try to get above that red line over there."
Only eight teams in the West are above the red line.
The Jazz are atop the seven teams below the red line, which would leave them univinvited to the postseason party if that remains through mid-April.
Speaking of a red line, the Jazz's engine has been revved to that point for two-plus months thanks to a schedule that's awfully reminiscent of the compressed lockout slate.
"I was talking to someone about this earlier," Hayward said. "They asked me if it feels back to normal and I told them, 'No. It feels like we've been playing a lot of games recently.'"
That's probably due to the fact the Jazz have been playing a lot of games recently.
Tonight's game against the bumbling Bobcats is their 37th in 71 days, which is a rate of one game per 1.92 days. By the time this road trip ends Saturday in Detroit, the Jazz will have played 39 games in 74 days (1/1.90).
To put that into perspective, during the lockout Utah played 66 contests in 122 nights — or one game every 1.85 days.
By the time the season wraps up April 17 in Memphis, the Jazz will have averaged one game every 2.06 days.
In comparison with other teams, the Jazz have played two more games than the league average of 34. They've played less than just one team (San Antonio) and they've played five more times than Minnesota.
"I look at it like we're playing a lot of games right now, a lot of road games right now," Jazz center Al Jefferson said. "(But) it's going to come back to us later on. Sooner or later, it's going to come back in your favor."
That schedule doesn't lighten up until next week, and by then Utah will have played more road games (24) than anybody in the NBA. On the bright side, the Jazz will have 24 of their final 43 games at EnergySolutions Arena.
"I know we've got a little break coming after this road trip and the Heat game (Monday) — four days without a game," Hayward said. "It's been a difficult schedule for us, but we're professionals. This is what we've got to do."
Though he's 33 — the team's second-oldest active player — Earl Watson hasn't had it as bad as his teammates because he was still rehabilitating his way back from knee surgery when the season started.
“I’m still kind of in my first month," said Watson, who's played 21 games. "So for these guys, I can only imagine how they feel, the body feels, the mind. Such a short period of time."
That changes soon. The Jazz follow this stretch of four games in six nights with just one game in the next eight days.
"We’re about to have a break that’s like a college schedule," Watson said. "It’s going to be two games a week or something like that. That will be pretty cool.”
In the meantime, Hayward said it's important that the Jazz finish off this tough time like they finished off Monday's game against Dallas — playing aggressively, digging in defensively, executing the offense and, of course, winning.
"We've got to be able to set the tone in the first game for the rest of the road trip," Hayward said. "It's going to be a big road trip for us, a key road trip for us."
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin knows the start of this season has been a challenge, but they knew that coming in.
"They’re a little beat up, but you know what? This is a resilient group of guys with high character, man, and they’re not going to look for excuses," Corbin said. "We’re not going to feel sorry for ourselves. We’re going to fight every night we step out there."
Case in point: the Jazz's 100-94 win over Dallas in which Utah overcame an eight-point deficit in the fourth.
"I thought (Monday) night was a great indication where things weren’t going particularly well for us," he said. "We were down 10 in the fourth quarter, the game got a little physical and we fought our way from there.”
Just like they're going to have to continue doing to get above that red line once this mile-a-minute schedule eases up.
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