Utah Jazz are in a playoff position even after this season's wild ride
Yet here they are. Two-and-a-half weeks remain in the season, and the Jazz are in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They're tied at 38-36 with the Lakers, but they own the tiebreaker, having won the season series 2-1. Utah also has that advantage over Dallas, which is just one-and-a-half games back at 36-37.
So, who are they?
The team that lost four straight two weeks ago?
The team that won four in a row last week?
They might be driving their fans nuts with the wild adventure, but they've earned the admiration of their leader.
This weekend, Corbin saw both Paul Millsap and Mo Williams impressively respond after being benched for a quarter or so. All season, he's complimented players like Alec Burks, DeMarre Carroll, Marvin Williams, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Jamaal Tinsley and Earl Watson for rolling with the playing-time punches.
"I can't say enough about the guys and how they stay focused and how serious they are about what's going on," Corbin said. "I just have great, great respect for this group of guys." The players also believe they've finally gained some traction. A win Monday at home against a downtrodden Portland team would give the Jazz their first five-game winning streak of the season.
"We know what we can do. On any given night, we can beat the best teams in the league," Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward said. "We've just got to play like that every single game and every single time we step out on the court. It will be a fun and interesting eight last games."
Of course it will.
"Every game counts now," Jazz center Al Jefferson said after repeating that his team is treating this part of the season as the playoffs. "We've got eight more games left, and all of them count."
Big Al said small things like Marvin Williams' rebounding and Paul Millsap's assists are adding up. The Jazz are more focused. They're communicating. They're playing together better, sharing, working.
And winning again.
"Winning is fun," Hayward said. "We've got to be able to do that from here on out."
"That's what's kind of frustrating, too," Jefferson said. "I feel like we could've been doing that all year, but better late than never."
Having endured trials and shaky stretches, it's possible the Jazz could've come out of the refiner's fire even stronger than before. And, hey, if you're going to pick a time to play your best ball, you might as well do it in March and April.
"We know this is desperation time. We've got to be urgent. The focus (Saturday) was good," Hayward said. "We have to have the same focus in the next game. It's a good win for us, but no time to celebrate. We've got to try to win as many of these games as we can, just to try to make it into the playoffs. It will be crucial to do that."
That, the players believe, is what is pulling the Jazz together even while some outside of their locker room figured they'd imploded and given up on the season.
"We understand that every game now is huge for us, so we've got to be prepared. We've got to treat every game as if it's Game 7 in the playoffs," Foye said.
"That's our goal. That's who we want to be. But we don’t just want to make the playoffs, we want to make the playoffs and make some noise."
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