Ben Brewer, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — When you think “big game” for the Utah Jazz, teams like Miami, Oklahoma City or San Antonio usually come to mind. Certainly not the Golden State Warriors, a franchise that hasn’t made the NBA playoffs in six years.
However, Tuesday night’s game against Golden State may be the biggest of the year for the Jazz to date.
No one knows that better than Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin, who welcomed his team back to practice Monday night at the Jazz practice facility.
“You want to get the first one after the break and this is a game that can have more than just a one-loss implication going down the stretch,’’ he said. “Golden State is a team that’s going to be in the battle for the playoffs position and there’s the tie-break implications, so it can mean more than one game. You really want to do all you can to get yourself a chance to win this game.’’
The reason the game is so big is because it’s a basically worth two against a team just ahead of the Jazz in the Western Conference standings. The Warriors are 30-22, while the Jazz are 30-24. If the Jazz win, they move into a virtual tie with the Warriors for the sixth spot in the West. A loss would leave the Jazz two games behind the Warriors in the West race.
The Jazz players are aware of the playoff implications of the game as well.
“It’s a big game for us in that sense,’’ said Jazz forward Paul Millsap. “They’re a good team, but we feel like we’re a better team. This is one of those games we don’t want to look back in the future and say we could have won.’’
Al Jefferson acknowledged this is a big game, but said every game is from here on out.
“This is a team we’re one game behind, but at this point in time with 28 games left, it’s important to get every game,’’ he said.
Another motivation for the Jazz is the tie-break. Because the Jazz and Warriors are so close in the standings with just two months left, there is always a chance the two could end up tied in the standings. If that happens, then head-to-head matchups will determine who gets the higher seed.
Still another added motivation is the fact that the Jazz will get the Warriors’ first-round draft pick this year and every loss the Warriors get, will potentially move the pick up a spot in the draft order.
The fact that the Warriors beat the Jazz handily earlier this season is one more motivation for the Jazz.
“They beat us pretty good the last time out after a little break,’’ said Corbin. “So we want to make sure we come out and play one of our better games.’’
When the two teams met earlier this season, it was the day after Christmas and the Jazz came out and played like they were still on holiday, losing 94-83. In that game, the Jazz fell behind from the start as Stephen Curry made nine straight points early in the first quarter and the Jazz trailed by as many as 20 points in the fourth quarter.
Tuesday’s game is the second of only three games the Jazz and Warriors will play this year. A Jazz loss would sew up the tie-break for Golden State. The last game between the two teams will be on April 7 in Oakland
The Warriors come into the game on a five-game losing streak, during which they’ve allowed 118 points per game on 49 percent shooting and 43 percent from 3-point range. Four of those games came on the road and all but one were by large margins (31, 21, 6 and 25).
Former Ute all-American Andrew Bogut called out his teammates last week for their poor defense, saying, “Our defense one-on-one is horrendous, 1 through 5, not just one or two guys. We get beat and it’s like, ‘Oh help, someone help me.’’’
Bogut was traded from Milwaukee last March for three players, including Monta Ellis. He’s been out most of the season with an ankle injury. After playing the first four games, he returned to the lineup on Jan. 28, but the Warriors are just 4-5 since then, 3-3 in games he has played in. Bogut hasn’t been playing in the second half of back-to-backs, but should be ready Tuesday night.
The Warriors are led by Stephen Curry and David Lee, who average 21.0 and 19.0 points, respectively. The other starters, besides Bogut, are second-year player Klay Thompson (16.4 ppg) and rookie Harrison Barnes (9.3 ppg).
After Tuesday’s game, the Jazz have another short break before playing the L.A. Clippers in Los Angeles on Saturday night.
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