SALT LAKE CITY — Never mind the Jazz made the playoffs with two games to spare. Forget they have coach, rookie and defensive player of the year candidates. Ignore the fact they are playing Wednesday at Portland with the No. 3 playoff position on the line.
Quin Snyder isn’t taking the bait.
Asked by a Bay Area reporter if there’s anything “about this team that people should know,” the Jazz coach was quick to reply.
“Nothing,” Snyder deadpanned. “Nothing about us that anybody needs to know. Nothing about the playoffs.”
But here’s a clue: The Jazz beat Golden State 119-79 on Tuesday.
So here the Jazz are, approaching Wednesday’s regular-season finale, trying to stay on the down-low. They’re doing a poor job of it, having won 29 of their last 34 games.
“There’s no drama,” Snyder said. “You know that. That’s not where we want to be. It’s not what we’re good at.”
Cancel the visit from TMZ. Most nights the Jazz are as spicy as fruit. Still, this is a season in which Snyder, rookie Donovan Mitchell and center Rudy Gobert have made a roaring case for postseason awards.
“You always hesitate to be too dramatic,” Snyder said, hesitating to be too dramatic. “But I think in this case, we were a little better than it felt like in December.”
They were 5-9 that month.
That's so 2017.
During pregame introductions, Gobert thanked Jazz fans for their support this season, adding, “Now we’ve got a chance to play in the playoffs.” Mitchell called the crowd “the best fans in the NBA” during a video presentation.
The season certainly worked for everyone. Fans gave the Jazz steady devotion, averaging 97 percent attendance. The team gave back, with a springtime surge for the ages. If not necessarily the most promising pre-playoff team in club history, this could be the most appreciated. The 2018 team rallied from nine games below .500 in January.
Tuesday’s halftime entertainment came compliments of magician Michael Grandinetti. Good stuff, but nowhere near the sorcery the Jazz produced. Three months ago they were as dead as Houdini. Thus on a night in which the Jazz beat the Warriors, for the third time this season, the mood was festive.
Forty-point wins can do that.
Jazz fans can thank Mitchell, this year, for forgetting he’s a rookie, and applaud Joe Ingles for changing from backup to solid starter. Special note should go to Derrick Favors, who shrugged off trade and free agency rumors and did his job without complaint. Newcomer Ricky Rubio reinvented himself.
Meanwhile, Gobert is enjoying the afterglow of having tweeted “We’ll be fine” in January when they were nine games below .500.
Whether the Jazz can handle a healthy Warriors team, should they meet later in the playoffs, is still speculation. But it sure looks like they can. Golden State star Stephen Curry has been sidelined in three of the four meetings and scored just 14 points in the other. But neither he nor Gobert played in the lone Golden State win.
None of the games have been close. The Warriors won the December game by 25. But the Jazz won by 30 on Jan. 30 and by 19 on March 25. The three Jazz wins came by an average of 30 points.
Regardless, this is a different team than the one that lost four straight to the Warriors in last year’s playoffs. Although injuries have played a part in Golden State’s season, so has the Jazz’s newfound mojo. But the story isn’t over with the Warriors. Curry has missed 31 games, Klay Thompson 9, Draymond Green 12 and Kevin Durant 14.
Gobert missed 26.
Still, after Tuesday’s outcome, the Warriors have to be asking what everyone in the Western Conference is thinking: Do they really want to meet the Jazz in the playoffs?
With their postseason position previously set, the Warriors couldn’t be blamed for mailing in Tuesday’s effort. But three consecutive losses to the Jazz have to make them wonder.
A playoff pairing this year would be vastly more suspenseful.