LOS ANGELES – As expected, the Utah Jazz are quickly climbing up the crowded Western Conference standings, thanks in part to an easier schedule, which has resulted in four straight home wins over mediocre NBA teams.
A month ago, the Jazz found themselves in the No. 14 spot in the West, ahead of only the lowly Phoenix Suns. Just two weeks ago, the Jazz were 18-20 and in the No. 12 position in the conference standings.
Following Monday’s 100-94 victory over the Detroit Pistons, the Jazz have moved up to No. 8 in the West at 24-21, which puts them in playoff position for the first time all season, albeit with 39 games still left on the schedule.
With their latest win, the Jazz slipped ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers, who have been on a downward slide ever since LeBron James was injured in a Dec. 25 game against Golden State. The Lakers have lost seven of 10 games since then to fall to 23-21 going into Tuesday night’s late game against Chicago.
With a game Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center (8:30 p.m. MT), the Jazz have a chance to make another leap in the standings since the Clippers are just a game ahead of Utah at 24-19, along with San Antonio at 25-20. Just a game ahead of those two teams are two more Western Conference foes, Houston and Portland, meaning the Jazz are just two games out of the No. 4 spot in the West.
Don’t ask Quin Snyder about the Jazz’s recent ascension in the standings. He’s aware of his team’s tough early slate, but is a one-game-at-a-time type of guy who doesn’t look too far ahead.
Snyder isn’t getting overly excited about his team’s season-long winning streak, perhaps because he realizes that even the most recent wins didn’t come easy. The record of the four recent home victims, Orlando, Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit was a combined 68-98 and the Jazz trailed three of those teams at halftime.
He called Monday’s win “a gutsy effort” after his team fell behind by as many as 12 in the first half. Despite a poor shooting night (38.8 percent), the Jazz were able to surge ahead down the stretch after holding the Pistons to 35 second-half points on just 30 percent shooting.
“This was the persistence you have to have if you’re not having a good shooting night. You have to defend and we did that in the second half,” he said.
Donovan Mitchell has been on a tear of late, averaging 30 points over the past six games on 47.4 percent shooting and 46.8 percent from 3-point range.
On the other hand, Jae Crowder has been a deep slump over the past six games, averaging just 7 points on 18.9 percent shooting and 12.1 percent from 3-point range.
Snyder made a point of praising Crowder after the Detroit game for a key fourth-quarter pass to Joe Ingles and for his defense.
“Jae didn’t shoot well, but he didn’t let it impact his defense,” Snyder said. “He fought like crazy on (Blake) Griffin. If you throw yourself into the game, usually something good happens.”
Snyder also praised Kyle Korver, who had his highest-scoring night since joining the Jazz with 19 points and five 3-pointers. “That’s why we felt he would be an excellent addition and I think our guys are getting comfortable with him.”
At the start of the season, the Jazz were expected to finish well ahead of teams such as Memphis, Dallas and the Lakers and have now leapfrogged each of those teams.
The Jazz should win Friday night against Cleveland, which has the worst record in the NBA. Then they’ll play home games against two teams ahead of them in the West standings, Portland on Monday and Denver on Wednesday, before playing Minnesota for the first time at home on Friday.
Then it’s off to Minnesota and Portland for a pair of road games before still another four-game homestand, this one against Atlanta, Houston, Phoenix and San Antonio, followed by a single road game at Golden State before the All-Star break.Comment on this story
JAZZ NOTES: Wednesday’s game is the only road game for Utah over a 19-day period between Jan. 8th and 26th . . . This will mark the first meeting this season against the Clippers with other games scheduled for Feb. 27 in Salt Lake and on April 10 in LA in the regular-season finale . . . The Clippers are on a three-game losing streak coming into the game, including back-to-back home losses against Detroit Saturday and New Orleans Monday . . . Forward Tobias Harris leads the Clippers at 20.8 points and 8 rebounds per game . . . Forward Danilo Gallinari averages 19.7 points and 6.1 rebounds . . . Other likely starters are rookie point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (9.6 ppg), Avery Bradley (7.4 ppg) and center Marcin Gortat (5.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg) . . . Reserves Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell average 18.6 and 16 points, respectively, off the bench.