Right now, I think we’re in the playoff hunt, so everybody’s focused. —Derrick Favors
PORTLAND, Ore. — Less than three weeks ago, 20 days to be exact, the Utah Jazz seemed to have hit rock-bottom with a double-digit loss to the perhaps the worst team in the NBA, the Atlanta Hawks. The defeat dropped the Jazz nine games below .500 to 19-28 and put them nearly as close to last place in the Western Conference as to eighth place, the final playoff position.
Then, 46 minutes into a likely loss to the Detroit Pistons, something clicked for the Jazz, who came back from a nine-point deficit to win in overtime. They’ve been unstoppable ever since.
The Jazz have run off eight consecutive victories — six straight on the road, a 30-point win over Golden State last week and, most recently, a 106-94 home win over Charlotte Friday night.
Suddenly, the Jazz have their sights set on the playoffs, a idea that seemed almost preposterous a month ago.
At 27-28, the Jazz are only two games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference and just three-and-a-half games out of the No. 5 spot they earned last year when they finished 51-31.
Utah has a chance to keep climbing the ladder with a game against one of those teams just ahead of them in the West standings, the Portland Trail Blazers, Sunday at the Moda Center (7 p.m. MT).
The Blazers are 31-25, tied with Oklahoma City for fifth place in the West, after a 118-100 win at Sacramento Friday night. In that game, former Weber State star Damian Lillard scored 50 points in just 29 minutes of action, on 16-of-26 shooting, including 8 of 13 from 3-point range.
With 27 games left, coach Quin Snyder is not ready to start talking playoffs, although one player talked about it after Friday’s win.
“Right now, I think we’re in the playoff hunt, so everybody’s focused,” said Derrick Favors. “We’re playing great basketball, sharing the ball, moving the ball. On the defensive end, we’re communicating and helping each other out. Hopefully we can keep it up.”
It’s hard not to see an open path to the playoffs for the Jazz, who have more home games left than any team in the Western Conference.
After Sunday’s game, the Jazz will have 16 of their final 26 games at Vivint Arena, where they are 16-9 this year compared to 11-19 on the road. Contrast that with Denver (29-26), which has just 12 games remaining at home, and the Los Angeles Clippers (28-25), who have 13 home games left.
The Jazz have no games left to make up ground against the Nuggets and just one with the Clippers (April 5), but they do have three games, including Sunday, against the Blazers, as well as one more against New Orleans. The Jazz will probably need to get to at least 41-41, which was the record for the eighth-place teams in both conferences last year.
After Friday’s victory, Snyder referenced those road games at Atlanta and Detroit as being a turning point in Utah’s season.
“There’s always some games in the NBA season where you lay an egg, and it has more to do with how you respond,” he said. “Really, for me, it was when Ricky [Rubio] got hit in the face and went back and got stitched up, came back out in the Detroit game. It’s that we competed. We were fortunate to win that game, but I think our guys gained some confidence in general.”
JAZZ NOTES: Jae Crowder, who was acquired from Cleveland in last week’s trade, is expected to be in the Jazz lineup Sunday Rubio's status for Sunday is unknown after he left Friday's game in the second half with hip soreness After Sunday’s game, the Jazz return home for a game against San Antonio Monday night, followed by a game against Phoenix Wednesday night Then the Jazz will take a nine-day break for All-Star Weekend before returning to play Feb. 23 Utah’s eight-game win streak is the longest since 2010, during a similar period from Jan. 20 to Feb. 9 Besides scoring a career-high 23 points against Charlotte, Joe Ingles, also dished out six assists and had five rebounds In playing his 475th game with the Jazz Friday, Derrick Favors passed Matt Harpring and Mehmet Okur into 15th place on the all-time Jazz list.