It doesn’t look promising on paper.
The Jazz entered Sunday 10th in the Western Conference with just five games to go, and ninth-place Phoenix holds a potential playoff tiebreaker against Utah.
The Jazz are missing four key players — Josh Howard, Raja Bell, C.J. Miles and Earl Watson — due to injuries, while everything from Utah’s defense of the pick-and-roll to late-game offensive execution have recently been suspect.
But even after the Jazz fell 103-98 to the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday, Utah (31-30) players such as Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and Gordon Hayward refused to give in.
The Jazz close their season by playing four of five games at home, where Utah is 21-8. And a resilient team that hasn’t laid down all year believes it has one more strong run remaining before its lockout-shortened 2011-12 season is complete.
“Absolutely,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “We’re not out of it by [any] stretch of the imagination.”
Hope is one thing; reality is another. Utah must quickly improve its attack at the same time upcoming opponents such as Dallas, Orlando and Phoenix are fighting for playoff position. For every advantage the Jazz possess — the Magic’s Dwight Howard and Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge are out, and Utah holds tiebreakers against Houston and Denver — there are counter-facts.
The Jazz are no longer the deep team they were just two weeks ago; Jefferson’s performance on both sides of the court has fallen off while Utah has fallen backward; and the Jazz’s starting five lacks a closer, while the second unit is pieced together with rookies, veteran Jamaal Tinsley and former D-Leaguer Blake Ahearn.
Still, Utah believes. The Jazz are a different team at home, and Utah could receive crucial reinforcements if Miles and Howard are cleared to return before the season is complete.
“Our best bet is to win out,” Millsap said. “Hopefully, it work itself out.”
Coming of age
Jazz backup forward Derrick Favors has recently played like a proven starter.
The 20-year-old big man recorded a game-high 14 rebounds and collected 10 points against the Grizzlies, playing 28 minutes, 25 seconds while teaming with Millsap and Jefferson when Corbin went big down the stretch.
During Favors’ past five games, the No. 3 overall pick of the 2010 NBA Draft is averaging 10.6 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks, while shooting 58.3 percent from the field in 27.8 minutes.
“Derrick needs some more minutes on the floor, and he’s responding,” Corbin said.
Mavericks at Jazz
P At EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff • 7 p.m., Monday
TV • ROOT Sports
Radio • 1320 AM, 1600 AM, 98.7 FM
Records • Mavericks 34-27, Jazz 31-30
Last meeting • Mavericks, 102-96 (March 3)
About the Mavericks • Dallas fell 112-108 in overtime to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. … Prior to facing Los Angeles, the Mavericks had won three consecutive games. … Dallas entered Sunday ranked eighth out of 30 teams in average points allowed (93.7) and 10th in rebounds (42.8). … The Mavericks are 3-0 against Utah this season.
About the Jazz • Utah is 4-6 in its past 10 games. … The Jazz entered Sunday fourth in the NBA in average rebounds (43.7) but 23rd in points allowed (98.9). … Center Al Jefferson is 0.6 points and 0.7 rebounds away from averaging 20-10. … Reserves DeMarre Carroll and Jeremy Evans are expected to be game-time decisions.