Statement game for Jazz
Portland, Ore. » Some of them learned when they checked the standings after heading home following Monday's victory over Phoenix. Some learned when they arrived for practice Tuesday morning at the Jazz's facility.
With Chicago beating San Antonio and New Orleans shocking Portland, the Jazz were able to leapfrog the Spurs and Trail Blazers and move into fourth place in the Western Conference, percentage points ahead of Portland.
Even with two games separating the Nos. 4-11 teams in the West, the Jazz could enjoy a sense of accomplishment, having climbed from out of playoff position barely two weeks ago to one of the top four spots.
"You can't get content, can't get happy with anything," Wesley Matthews said. "Just keep fighting like our back's against the wall, because in a way it is. We're only probably two games from being back where we were."
Having gone 7-1 in their past eight games, the Jazz couldn't ask for a better chance to make a statement about how far they've come than tonight's game in Portland, where they have dropped six straight games.
The Jazz are in desperate need of Northwest Division victories, having gone just 2-7 in the division with three losses to Denver and two each to Oklahoma City and Minnesota. They also could boost their road record to 9-12 with a victory.
"This is a really important one for us," Deron Williams said. "I know Brandon Roy's probably not going to play, so it's a game we still can't take lightly because they have some great players on their team who step up when other players are out."
Roy has missed five of Portland's past six games with an injured right hamstring and isn't expected to return until Friday at the earliest. The Blazers had lost Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla to season-ending knee injuries before Roy was hurt.
The home team has won the last eight games between the Jazz and Blazers, as well as 13 of the past 14. Having beaten Portland 108-92 on Nov. 28 in Utah, the Jazz could ensure no worse than a split of the season series with a victory tonight.
In the meantime, the Jazz have turned around their season after demoralizing home losses earlier this month to Denver (missing Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups) and New Orleans.
"We've had some pretty good luck here lately and played pretty well and hopefully we can continue that," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said, adding, "I think guys have kind of come together a little bit more the last two or three weeks."
Their 124-115 victory over Phoenix came on a night in which the Jazz gave up a franchise record 17 three-pointers and overcame a 17-point deficit with 21/2 minutes left in the third quarter.
Asked what the Jazz had learned in recent weeks, Matthews answered: "That we can fight through anything. We can battle with the best of them and come out on top."
"We didn't play the way we were supposed to the full 48 minutes," Matthews added. "[The Suns] played great, they shot 17 for 30 from the three, and we were still able to fight back, take it one possession at a time on defense, then on offense, and come away with a win."
The Jazz have enjoyed similar runs of success in the second half of the past two seasons -- winning 12 consecutive games a year ago -- but have solidified their defense and are getting welcome contributions from Andrei Kirilenko, who scored 25 points Monday.
"He's kind of our X-factor," Williams said of Kirilenko. "When he steps up and scores the basketball and plays like he's been playing on both ends of the floor, we're tough to beat."
At Rose Garden, Portland, Ore.
Time » 8 p.m.
TV » FSN Utah
Radio » 1320 AM, 98.7 FM
Records » Jazz 26-18, Portland 27-19
Last meeting » Jazz, 108-92 (Nov. 28)
Line » Jazz by 2
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