We may not be in position to make the playoffs, but we can always play spoiler, man. —Marvin Williams
SALT LAKE CITY — Traditionally, this is one of the most exciting basketball months of the year. High school championships are determined, college tournaments get the nation into a March Madness frenzy, and NBA teams make their push to the playoffs.
Even though they’re on the outside looking in at all of the postseason fun, even the Utah Jazz hope to capitalize a bit on the hoops hysteria.
“It’s funny. I was just talking D-Fav (Derrick Favors) about that,” Jazz forward Marvin Williams said. “I said, ‘We may not be in position to make the playoffs, but we can always play spoiler, man.’”
They’ll get that chance Wednesday night with the Dallas Mavericks in town. Dirk Nowitzki and crew are in a three-way tussle for the Western Conference’s final two playoff spots with Memphis and Phoenix.
The Jazz's next five opponents are all headed for playoff races of some sort — seeding or qualifying — so they'll have plenty of chances to irritate some high-caliber foes.
“There are going to be teams that are trying to position themselves for the playoffs. Teams are going to try to move up in the playoff standings,” Williams said. “We’ve got a chance to kind of spoil some of that, so I guess that might be the role we have to kind of take on.”
That’s part of the approach Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin is taking as well. He knows his 22-42 squad has long been beaten out of the postseason race, but he wants his players to watch playoff-bound opponents and match the extra fight they have at this time of year as games take on added importance.
“These guys are competitive guys,” Corbin said. “Although we’re playing for something different — being competitive and being as good as we can be now — those experiences you use now to grow. We put ourselves into situations and mentally think about it.”
The last thing Corbin wants is for his players to simply circle April 16 on their calendars, check each of the remaining 18 games off, and cruise to the end of the 2013-14 season.
He believes his players, especially the younger ones, can still learn valuable lessons in the final month of the season.
“We’re working and using those things to keep our focus on playing as winners, playing as if you’re playing for something,” he said. “If nothing else playing to make yourselves to be better.” The Jazz lost to the familiar-looking Hawks on Monday, 110-108, but Corbin thought they played with a spoiler spirit that helped them rally out of an 18-point deficit before falling short.
“At this juncture, a loss last night would have really hurt (the Hawks). You see how hard they fought for it,” Corbin said. “I was proud how we fought back in that second half after not playing our best in the first half. I think this is a great experience for these guys.”
It doesn’t necessarily translate into professional success, but there are multiple guys around the Jazz who have had big-time moments in March and April.
Williams (North Carolina, 2005), shooting guard Brandon Rush (Kansas, 2008) and assistant coach Sidney Lowe (North Carolina State, 1983) each won NCAA championships with their colleges.
Small forward Richard Jefferson (Arizona, 2001), shooting guard Gordon Hayward (Butler, 2010) and point guard Trey Burke (Michigan, 2013) took their teams to NCAA runner-ups status. And John Lucas III (Oklahoma State, 2004) helped his college program earn a Final Four berth.
“We have a lot of guys with a college history on this team,” Williams said. “They know what it takes to win. It is a special feeling.”
Williams cracked a grin when asked if there’s much trash-talking done around the locker room when it comes to March Madness.
“There’s not much anybody can say really,” he said. “Brandon Rush can probably talk. He won one. Coach Lowe won one. Obviously I won one. Anybody else can’t have much of a conversation.”