Ravell Call, Deseret News
Paul Millsap of the Utah Jazz fakes Shawn Marion of the Dallas Mavericks into the air during NBA basketball in Salt Lake City, Monday, Jan. 7, 2013.

DALLAS — The question was logical: What has been holding the Jazz back from playing with the energy and enthusiasm they played with through most of their 53-minute overtime loss at San Antonio on Friday night.

Al Jefferson pondered the question for a few seconds, then tried to answer without much success.

“Uh, I don’t know. ... I don’t know,’’ he said a second time. “I can’t answer that.’’

Just as puzzling as Utah’s recent slide and seeming lack of effort in losing games was how the team suddenly played so well Friday night against one of the league’s best teams in one of the toughest environments.

In the 104-97 loss, the Jazz started off like their usual selves, falling behind 16-4 less than two minutes into the game. Then, soon after Derrick Favors replaced Paul Millsap, the Jazz started scoring and stopping the Spurs on defense and burst to a 21-19 lead at the quarter break.

From there, they never lost the lead until the final three minutes, after which they forced overtime on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Marvin Williams.

Everybody talked about the great effort, from coach Tyrone Corbin to several players, but no one could say why it’s taken so long for the Jazz to play this way.

One thing they do know is they have to play like that every night if they want any chance of playing in the postseason.

“We’ve got to take care of business on the road and steal a couple,’’ said Mo Williams. “We’re not losing sight of the goal to make the playoffs

PLAYOFF PICTURE: While it could have been better, in all it was a pretty good night for the Jazz Friday.

They played one of their best games of the past two months in leading San Antonio most of the way before losing in overtime. Then an hour or so after their close defeat, they got some unexpected help from the Washington Wizards, who came from 17 points down in the second half to knock off the Los Angeles Lakers .

That left the Jazz within striking distance — a game-and-a-half back of the Lakers — with 13 games left in the season. They’re also four games behind Houston and just a game ahead of the surging Dallas Mavericks, Sunday’s opponent.

Looking at the remaining schedules, the Jazz seem to have it the best, with eight home games and just five games against playoff teams. Meanwhile, Houston has seven home games, and the Lakers just six. Also the Lakers must play eight playoff teams while Houston has seven. Like the Jazz, the Mavs have eight home games with seven against playoff teams.

"Anything can happen,'' said Gordon Hayward. "I definitely still believe (we can make the playoffs), but we can't keep taking losses — that's for sure. We have to find ways to get the job done.''

NO HELP: The Jazz aren’t getting any extra help when it comes to injured players for their opponents.

1 comment on this story

Against San Antonio Friday night, they had to play against Tony Parker, who had missed the previous eight games with an ankle injury. All Parker did was lead his team with 22 points and several key baskets down the stretch.

Now the Jazz will face a Dallas squad that just welcomed back starting forward Shawn Marion, after he, like Parker, missed eight games. Marion sat out with a left calf strain, but returned against Boston Friday night and scored 11 points in 31 minutes of play.

It’s not like the Jazz want to play short-handed teams, but after playing short-handed themselves for much of the season, it would be nice for them to get a bit of a break sometimes.