Utah Jazz: Playoffs are already under way, if you ask Jazz players

Published: Monday, March 18 2013 12:42 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Every NBA player dreams of taking part in a long playoff run each year.

Generally, that preferred postseason time frame is from mid-April to mid-June.

If you listen to the Jazz, though, it's already started.

"Every game from here on out is make-or-break, in my opinion," Jazz center Al Jefferson said Saturday night. "Playoffs started right now for us."

Mo Williams said something similar earlier in the day. He referred to the Jazz's game against Memphis as a playoff game and "a must-win."

Look at it that way, and the Jazz are off to a splendid 1-0 start in the 2013 playoffs, thanks to their gutsy, well-played 90-84 victory over the feisty Grizzlies.

"They all are important for us right now. It's a great victory for us," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We needed something positive to happen for us after the game in Oklahoma City (a 23-point loss). On our home floor, I thought our guys responded against a great team."

Game 2 of the Pre-Playoffs is tonight (8:30, ESPN) at EnergySolutions Arena against the New York Knickerbockers.

Fortunately for the Jazz, the Knicks will be playing their second game in as many days after losing 93-80 to the Clippers in Los Angeles on Sunday.

Unfortunately for the Jazz, this is the same team that pummeled them by 29 points nine days ago at Madison Square Garden.

"I forgot about it," Jazz power forward Derrick Favors said. "Games like that, you've just got to let it go by."

The loss to the Knicks wrapped up a miserable four-game road skid for the Jazz, who blew fourth-quarter leads in defeats in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Chicago earlier that week.

It was also the seventh setback in eight games for Utah, which went from a solid No. 7 seed to being on the outside looking in at the Western Conference playoff standings.

"It's so fresh," Corbin admitted. "They know the last time we played this team they handled us pretty good. We don’t feel good about that."

Then again, Utah has won two of three since then and is feeling much better about itself after what Favors described as a "confidence builder" on Saturday against a talented and physical Grizzlies group.

"It just showed that we need to play like that more often. We played better as a team," Favors said. "Everybody took it upon themselves to stop their man and play help defense. Whoever got the opportunity to score, they did. … I hope that gives us the confidence and the momentum we need to go out there and keep winning."

Overall, Corbin liked the results of the lineup change he implemented Saturday night. Utah fell behind 9-1 to Memphis after Gordon Hayward replaced DeMarre Carroll as the starting small forward, but the starters and subs improved as the game went on.

Hayward was even more impressive as a closer than a starter, hitting two key 3-pointers in the final three minutes, including the clincher with 17.3 seconds remaining.

Corbin said it's possible he could go with a "bigger" small forward — perhaps Carroll — if Carmelo Anthony were to play for the Knicks. But he liked what the group of Mo Williams, Randy Foye, Hayward, Paul Millsap and Jefferson did once things smoothed out a bit.

The Grizzlies are one of the best defensive teams in the NBA, if not the best, so it was understandable to some degree that the Jazz's 14th different starting lineup this season didn't go in and light up the scoreboard right off the bat.

As the game progressed, Utah got better at recognizing how Memphis would "flood the strong side," Corbin explained, and the Jazz used good passes and drives to score from the weak side more effectively.

"After we got used to each other, we moved around well," Corbin said. "We got a run going there."

Mostly, though, Corbin feels that the Jazz got a nice morale boost from the win.

"To come out against a good team like Memphis (Saturday) night and to hang in there after they made some runs against us and we fought to give ourselves a chance to win and match their physical play," Corbin said, "they should feel better about themselves."

By the way, Favors' memory might not be as bad as he played it out to be.

"They got us good in New York," he said, recalling the 113-84 blowout that he admitted was "embarrassing" when it happened. "When they come here, we're going to be focused and ready to play."

With the pseudo playoffs going on, there's no better time for that to happen.

EMAIL: jody@desnews.com

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