Last year, heading into the last week, wasn't a great time to be connected with the Utah Jazz.
Deron Williams was gone, ousted to New Jersey. Jerry Sloan was gone, retired to his farm, when his dispute with Williams had become too much to bear.
The Jazz were playing out the season, having gone from a 27-13 team to a lottery bunch. And Ty Corbin was adjusting to life as an NBA head coach.
Utah, as a franchise, was in turmoil at this time last year.
On Saturday, during shootaround for tonight's matchup against Orlando, the feeling is decidedly different.
"We have something to fight for," Paul Millsap said.
Tonight, Utah will start the first of three home games to end the regular season against the Magic, a team going through a bit of turmoil of their own.
When the Jazz do, the task is clear: They need to win all three to make the playoffs.
Of course, mathematically, they may not have to. From Corbin, to Al Jefferson, to Millsap, everyone feels they need to win all three.
"The guys know what they have to do," Corbin said. "It's not complex. It starts tonight. Everyone knows what they're on the verge of, but there isn't a bunch of nerves involved."
Indeed, the Jazz are a loose crew. To end shootaround, Alec Burke playfully dunked in Jefferson's mug as the team walked off the EnergySolutions Arena floor, and did so to oohs and ahhs from his teammates.
When Jefferson left the arena, he playfully tried to scoot past media members by hiding his face in a cardboard box. Utah presented itself as a confident bunch, without being a cocky bunch. Still, the task is clear, and they know it doesn't become easy just because Dwight Howard is out for the remainder of the season with a balky back.
"They are still dangerous," Millsap said. "They have a bunch of 3-point shooters and they space the floor extremely well."
That said, Corbin will probably tweak his pick and roll defense in an effort to stay out on the shooters. Also, Jefferson will have a difficult task because he will be asked to defend Glen "Big Baby" Davis one-on-one without help. Millsap will be asked to defend Ryan Anderson on the perimeter as well.
"Guys are going to have to be aware," Corbin said. "This is a team that shoots the ball great, so we're going to have to defend well on the edges."
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