SALT LAKE CITY — On Sunday night, the Utah Jazz just about beat the Portland Trail Blazers, the surprise team of the NBA.
That victory probably would’ve happened if they hadn’t been so generous with the basketball on the defensive glass. Utah surrendered 23 offensive rebounds to the Blazers, who took advantage and scored 24 second-chance points.
On Tuesday night, the Jazz barely beat the Houston Rockets, a surprise team in the NBA for less-positive reasons than the Blazers.
That win almost didn’t happen, however, because the Jazz were so charitable with the basketball in the first half. Utah made 16 of its 22 turnovers before halftime, leading directly to 23 points for the Rockets.
New starting point guard Shelvin Mack had the roughest night when it came to turnovers, as he had six miscues while trying to build on-court chemistry with his teammates. But five other Jazz players committed multiple turnovers.
Those deficiencies will need to be rectified if the Jazz hope to continue pushing toward their first playoff berth since 2012. Utah is only 5-16 when it’s outrebounded by opponents and 12-16 when it has more turnovers.
Those two areas will be key Thursday night when Utah hosts a team that has already crushed it a couple of times this season.
The Spurs are good enough without receiving dozens of free points from the Jazz.
San Antonio has already beaten Utah by an average of 31 points per game this season, having handed the Jazz a 118-81 drubbing in December and a 123-98 beating in January at the AT&T Center.
“You have to learn how to play through mistakes,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said, crediting his young players for enduring early gaffes against Houston.
The challenge against the Spurs, though, is that the Jazz were more overwhelmed than error-prone in both of their embarrassing defeats.
This time around, the Jazz have multiple things in their favor over San Antonio.
For one, they’re playing a home game. Utah won both games against the Spurs at Vivint Arena last season. The Jazz also have a seven-game winning streak at home.
For another, the Jazz will have the services of center Rudy Gobert against Tim Duncan & Co. this time. The Stifle Tower was out with a knee injury in the two games at San Antonio this season. You can bet Gobert is eager to bounce back from one of his worst NBA games ever after totaling only two points, three rebounds and zero blocks in the Houston win.
The Jazz also have the benefit of being off at home while the Spurs played a late game at Sacramento on Wednesday night.
This is an important game for Utah, which leapfrogged Houston to get back into the eighth playoff spot. The Jazz have one more home game (Saturday vs. Brooklyn) before embarking on a tough four-game trip to Boston, Toronto, Memphis and New Orleans. That swing begins a rough stretch that includes 11 of 15 games on the road so picking up wins at home is a must for postseason hopefuls.
The way the Jazz cleaned up their turnover act in the second half Tuesday was encouraging. Utah had only six turnovers in the third and fourth quarters and overtime.
“We just took care of the ball. We were more forceful on offense,” Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward said. “I think we read them a little bit better. Start of the third we were still turning it over for sure, but there in the fourth and then into overtime, I thought we did a much better job.”
The Jazz then showed their resiliency against a talented Houston team that was playing a good game.
“I think we just gutted it out. We weren’t playing so well in the first half and they made a run,” Jazz guard Rodney Hood said. “We turned the ball over a lot, but one thing about this team, we keep fighting. They hit some big shots. We missed a couple chippies here and there, but we kept fighting and were able to hit some big shots down the stretch and in overtime.”
JAZZ NOTES: This game was originally scheduled as the late TNT-televised contest, but it was replaced by the Rockets-Blazers duel. The NBA did not change the tipoff time, though, so the game will still be a late 8:40 p.m. start. Jazz center Tibor Pleiss was sent back to the Idaho Stampede for his fifth D-League assignment of the season. Jazz players didn’t have a formal practice Wednesday, but they spread out around the Wasatch Front to go read to elementary students. An NBA player hadn’t scored as many points as Gordon Hayward (28) on only seven field-goal attempts since Chauncey Billups scored 29 on 4-of-7 shooting in 2006. Billups was aided by an 18-for-19 performance from the free-throw line. Hayward was 13 of 15.