We've got two tough games coming back-to-back. I believe in my heart if we continue to play like we've played the last two games we're going to win them. —Jazz center Al Jefferson
PHILADELPHIA — Along with Xs and Os, a playbook full of calls and all sorts of other NBA knowledge, Tyrone Corbin has a number in his head.
This particular one — who knows, there could be other numbers for other reasons — is the one he believes the Utah Jazz have to reach in the win column to give his team a "great chance" of making the playoffs.
That's right, the playoffs.
Only 28 games remain and the Jazz's record is 19-19, so it doesn't take a mathematician or mathlete to tell you the magical number falls somewhere between 20 and 47.
And the number is?
Corbin goes into full-out Kevin O'Connor no-comment mode when you ask him to reveal it.
First things first. While the playoffs are the preferred destination — a place few predicted they'd find in this quasi-rebuilding year — the more important math for Corbin and crew to do now is trying to turn two into three.
En route to tonight's game in Philly, the Jazz picked up momentum with back-to-back road wins in Cleveland and Charlotte, and they're looking to stretch this road winning streak to a season-high three.
"It could be 12 teams vying for those (spots) from 5 to 8. It's going to be close," Corbin said. "That's why I tell the guys we've just got to take care of our business each and every game and we'll just see where this thing shakes out. If we win a great percentage of our games, we should be in good shape."
Even talk of the playoffs seemed like a farfetched fantasy just two weeks ago. Way back then, the Jazz were in the midst of losing 11 of 14 games and seemed to have lost focus and energy, not to mention a 16-point fourth-quarter lead in a demoralizing loss at Minnesota.
Four wins in five games later, they're only a game out of a playoff spot — behind, interestingly enough, those pesky pups from the north.
"You're going to have peaks and valleys, man. You know you want to be playing right at the right time," Corbin said. "We went through our stretch there and hopefully all that's behind us for the remainder of the season. You've got to try and figure it out as soon as you can because games keep coming and before you know it, it's going to be over."
Two things buoyed the Jazz during that rough stretch, according to Corbin: Players and coaches continued to work and kept their chemistry.
"The good thing is to see the rewards of your work and the focus that we started demonstrating on the road especially," Corbin said. "And we're going to need to continue that, man, because we need to win our share of road games finishing up the season to have the chance to get into the playoffs, which is what our goal is."
Center Al Jefferson believes the Jazz are in learning mode — from him discovering the benefits of passing out of the post to figuring out how to win together at home and on the road.
"We're doing it right now. We've just got to keep it up, man," Jefferson said. "We've got two tough games coming back-to-back. I believe in my heart if we continue to play like we've played the last two games we're going to win them."
That seemed like an easier task against the 76ers, who'd struggled for a while before blasting Boston by 32 points at home Wednesday while the Jazz took care of five-win Charlotte.
Regardless of what Philly and Chicago (Utah's opponent Saturday night) have done, the Jazz, who missed the playoffs last spring, are in an it's-all-about-us mode.
"We have to play a certain way right now. We have to be aggressive on both ends of the floor in order for us to be successful," Corbin said. "If we think anything less than that, think we can show up and beat anybody, we're making a mistake."
Question remains: Can this team, which still has 15 road games remaining and several issues (outside shooting and wing inconsistency, for starters) make a legitimate run at the playoffs?
And what's that magical number?
Thirty-three wins? 35? 38? (ESPN stats guru John Hollinger crunched numbers and believes it's 36, for what that's worth.)
"The losses are more or less what you want to focus on and we're right there still," Jazz guard Earl Watson said. "I don't know the number because it's a short season, and who knows what's going to happen after the trade deadline.
"The main goal is to win as may games as possible," Watson added. "Getting wins on the road is big for us. I know it's going to take road wins. That's what you do know."6 comments on this story
For one, the former Timberwolves player said it's "amazing" Minnesota is in playoff position at the No. 8 spot. Also, Big Al isn't concerning himself with a daily scoreboard or standings watch just yet.
"We can't be worrying about the playoff picture and stuff now because it's still early and everything (is) bunched up together right now," he said. "So we've just got to take it one game at a time and win."
Read Corbin's mind, and you'll know how many times they have to repeat that process.