When things go wrong we talk and figure things out. Especially on the road, we don’t give up and we keep going. —Jazz point guard point guard Ricky Rubio
The playoffs are officially within the Utah Jazz’s reach.
Despite winning 16 of their last 18 games, the Jazz have remained on the outside looking in at the top eight in the Western Conference thanks to the fact that they were 4.5 games out when the run began and because a bunch of teams ahead of them have been hot, too.
But after finally getting some help Tuesday night as the three teams in front of them (the Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets and LA Clippers) all lost and then seeing the Nuggets fall again Wednesday night, the Jazz are now in a virtual tie for eighth with the Nuggets and Clippers (neither of whom had a game Thursday) entering Friday night’s game on the road against the lowly Memphis Grizzlies.
Technically Utah sits in a tie for ninth with the Nuggets with a record of 35-30 (a .538 winning percentage), but those two squads and the Clippers are all an identical number of games behind the top spot in the West (LA holds the eighth spot with a 34-29 record and has a .540 winning percentage, having played two fewer games thus far than the Jazz and Denver).
While there is a bevy of tiebreakers that aren’t close to being decided with still more than a month to go in the regular season, Utah is finished playing the Nuggets, having tied the season series 2-2, and is up 2-1 on the Clippers with an April 5 home contest still to be played.
“Everyone is on the same page, everyone wants to win, and you can feel that,” said center Rudy Gobert on Wednesday night after he led the Jazz with 23 points, 14 rebounds, a block and a steal in a 104-84 win over the Indiana Pacers, which was Utah’s fourth straight victory.
Added Gobert, who has essentially guaranteed the Jazz will be in the postseason, “There’s a focus in the locker room. It’s great. It’s fun to be rewarded for the work we’ve put in, but I feel we can keep getting better.”
On Wednesday night, Utah was particularly good defensively in holding the Pacers to less than 39 percent shooting from the field and a terrible 3 of 23 from behind the 3-point line.
“We did a great job,” Gobert said. “We protected the paint. When they stopped wanting to come into the paint, it made them a jump shooting team and it’s on our guards to try and distract and contest the shots and on us (the front line) to rebound and we did a good job tonight. They are a very good team that has been playing well and we really wanted to stop them tonight.”
While Indiana was still in a tie for fourth place in the Eastern Conference despite the loss, the Jazz’s next opponent, the Grizzlies, have the worst record in the NBA at 18-46 and have lost 15 straight games.
A Utah victory would not only mark its fifth straight overall but also its 10th consecutive win on the road. The last time a Jazz team won 10 in a row away from home was during a 15-game span between Nov. 27, 1994, and Jan. 26, 1995.
“We are learning how to be good as a team,” said point guard Ricky Rubio, who added 18 points, seven assists, six rebounds and three steals on Wednesday. “When things go wrong we talk and figure things out. Especially on the road, we don’t give up and we keep going.”
Utah leads the season series 1-0, having won 92-88 on Feb. 7 in Memphis in a game that was close until the fourth quarter when the Jazz pulled away before the Grizzlies made a few inconsequential 3-pointers in the final seconds.
The teams will meet again March 30 at Vivint Arena.
The Clippers, Nuggets and Jazz will all be in action on Friday night, as LA will face the Cleveland Cavaliers at home and Denver will play the Los Angeles Lakers, also at home.