Less than three weeks ago, coach Gregg Popovich didn’t hesitate to rest San Antonio’s Big Three against the Jazz. Now, Utah must surpass a strong, deep and fully loaded Spurs team if the Jazz want to advance past the first round of the NBA Western Conference playoffs.
Denver’s 106-101 win against Oklahoma City on Wednesday locked Utah into its postseason seed.
The No. 8 Jazz (35-30) will face the No. 1 Spurs (48-16) in a best-of-seven series. San Antonio entered Wednesday having won eight consecutive games and held the second-best record in the NBA.
“It’s going to be a challenge. But we’re looking forward to that,” Utah small forward Gordon Hayward said. “We’ve shown this season if we play our game we can hang around with anybody and compete with the best teams in the league. We have to just focus on us and do what we do.”
The playoff schedule hasn’t been released, but games start Saturday.
Utah’s first two matchups will be in San Antonio, where the Spurs are 28-5. The mark ties Miami for the second-best home record in the NBA.
Tickets for Games 3 and 4 in Salt Lake City are on sale now. Purchases can be made at utahjazz.com, the EnergySolutions Arena box office and Smith’s Tix outlets.
The Jazz are just 1-3 against San Antonio this season, with three losses by an average of 9.6 points.
Utah downed the Spurs 91-84 on April 9 in SLC, during a game that saw Popovich hold out stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in an attempt to counter a lockout-compressed schedule.
After the victory, Jazz forward Paul Millsap said Popovich’s move felt like a “slap in the face.”
“That was a little motivation … that got us through,” Millsap said.
Utah and San Antonio last met in the playoffs during the 2007 Western Conference Finals, which the Spurs won 4-1.
San Antonio lost to Memphis 4-2 in the first round last season, marking one of the biggest upsets in NBA playoff history.
The Spurs have won four NBA championships under Popovich.
Utah has yet to claim a title.
Top Jazz players likely to sit vs. Blazers
Even though the Jazz have played only five games in the last 12 nights of the regular season, coach Tyrone Corbin will likely limit the minutes of his prime-time players Thursday against Portland.
Utah qualified for the Western Conference playoffs with its 100-88 win over Phoenix on Tuesday.
Although Corbin said beating the Blazers remains a priority, the victory over the Suns puts less pressure on the Jazz to do so. As a result, players like Al Jefferson,Millsap, Hayward and Devin Harris might get a little more rest than usual.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Corbin said. “We’ll probably get some guys more minutes and rest some other guys.”
If Corbin lessens the workload on his most-used players, it’s understandable.
• Jefferson played 38 minutes against Phoenix. He has played at least 30 minutes in 20 of the last 21 games.
• Millsap played 41 minutes against the Suns. He has averaged 39.4 minutes in the last eight games.
• Hayward played 42 minutes against Phoenix. He has played at least 34 minutes in 15 straight games, going back to March 18.
• Harris played 34 minutes against the Suns. He has played at least 31 minutes in seven consecutive games.
Jazz on roll
The Jazz owned a 15-18 record after a 103-98 defeat at Sacramento on Feb. 28.
Since losing to the Kings, however, Utah has gone 20-12, including victories over Miami, San Antonio, Dallas and the L.A. Lakers. The Jazz have won four straight heading into the game against Portland, including one in overtime (Orlando) and another in triple-overtime (Dallas).
Corbin’s reaction to the stretch run?
“We’re in; we got in the dance,” he said. “That’s the main thing. We got the invite. We know we’re going to be in there, so now we have to prepare for playoff basketball.”
Congrats roll in
After the win over Phoenix, Corbin received numerous congratulatory phone calls and text messages from family members and friends.
He had “too many [texts] to answer at one time,” he reported, so he responded by “trying to do the group thing.”
Laughing at his own lack of texting skills, Corbin said, “It didn’t work out.”
Jefferson credited Corbin and the chemistry in the locker room for the Jazz’s ability to survive the tough times during the lockout-shortened season.
“If the chemistry wasn’t there, we probably would have turned away from coach,” Jefferson said. “But that’s the beauty of this team. Everybody was humble. If I scored, the whole team felt like they scored. … I’ve never been a part of [anything] like this.”
Second-year power forward Derrick Favors had 13 points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shots against the Suns — his fifth double-double in the last seven games.
“He’s a beast, man,” Jefferson said. “He does so many wonderful things on the offensive and defensive end. His confidence is getting better and better. That’s scary because I think he has a chance to be one of the top players in this league one day. And I’ve seen it from Day 1.”