Brian Zettler's work wasn't done.
With the Jazz's 104-98 win against Golden State on Friday at EnergySolutions Arena, Utah's assistant athletic trainer was able to move the team up in the Western Conference standings. As Zettler rearranged names and numbers on a dry-erase board inside the Jazz's locker room, Utah jumped a half-game above 10th-place Phoenix. The Jazz were still 1.5 games behind seventh-place Denver, though.
Even after Zettler's standings were impermanently inked in, teams still climbed and fell. Houston's strong road victory against the Los Angeles Lakers late Friday partially erased any momentum Utah picked up. The Rockets ended the evening tied with the Nuggets, and the Jazz were still 1.5 games behind two teams with 10 contests to go.
The main idea recently floating through Jazzland: If Utah can just go 2-3 on the road, then finish strong at home, the team should make the playoffs.
But while the Jazz close their season with home games against Orlando, Phoenix and Portland, Utah has to survive its next seven contests. From Sunday through April 18, the Jazz will play five of seven games away from ESA. Three matchups are against teams with winning records — San Antonio, Houston, Memphis — while an away-home back-to-back against the Spurs and a three-game road trip highlight the test. The Rockets, Grizzlies, Dallas and Portland are still fighting for playoff spots, while San Antonio is vying with Oklahoma City for home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference Finals.
Utah has been in postseason contention since the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season started. The Jazz's next 10 days could determine whether the team's playing ball in early May or waiting for the 2012 NBA Draft. Or … Utah's fate might not be determined until an April 26 finale against the Blazers at ESA. Considering how unpredictably thrilling the lockout season's already been, as well as the Jazz's up-and-down year, it'd be fitting for Utah to have a chance to make the playoffs during its season-closer in Salt Lake City.
Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and C.J. Miles played through injuries or illness during the Jazz's win against the Warriors, while Devin Harris was recovering from a sprained left ankle.
Miles had a case of Millsap-itis during the game. While coach Tyrone Corbin said Millsap (flu) spent plenty of time in the bathroom "both ways" Friday morning, Miles said he nearly rivaled his teammate between tipoff and halftime.
Millsap still looked green-ish after the game. But after watching Jefferson play through two abdomen strains and drop a game-high 30 points on 13-of-18 shooting against Golden State rookie Jeremy Tyler, Millsap leapt at the opportunity to indulge in a little locker-room humor.
While Jefferson went out of his way to politely downplay his obvious offensive advantage against Tyler — just like Big Al had done March 7 when he destroyed Charlotte rookie center Bismack Biyombo — Millsap interrupted his teammate and friend to remind Jefferson of two huge numbers: 13 and 18. Millsap cracked up, and Jefferson couldn't hold back laughter. Then Big Al again found ways to say more nice, professional things about Tyler, who finished with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting.
Warriors coach Mark Jackson attended the Jazz's pregame chapel session and had a conversation with Earl Watson afterward.
Josh Howard plans to travel with the Jazz for their upcoming road trip. He said his rehab continues to go well.
Jamaal Tinsley, Harris and Watson combined to play more than 78 minutes against Golden State. Corbin used a two point guard-lineup mainly because Miles and Jefferson were forced to leave the game. But it was the second time in three contests the Jazz have either gone big or small — Derrick Favors, Millsap and Jefferson played together Monday at Portland — and Utah won both games.
Despite only having 12 active players and at times being down to just 10 athletes Friday, the Jazz are still able to create several offensive mismatches, thanks to the team's depth at point guard and power forward/center. If Utah makes the playoffs, the Jazz could greatly benefit by taking advantage of player matchups during a seven-game series.
Utah needs Harris. In top form — which Harris clearly was Friday — the Jazz are a different, more dangerous team. Utah's been at its best this season when Harris has pushed the tempo and drained 3-pointers. He'll have to continue to step up for the Jazz to secure a postseason spot.
Enes Kanter only played 4:28, while Alec Burks was limited to 9:04. With the rookies sitting, Corbin did everything he could with eight players to beat the Warriors.
Golden State had multiple chances to steal the game and blew them every time. The Warriors led 43-30, then allowed Utah to close the first half on a 25-12 run. Golden State entered the fourth quarter with an 80-78 advantage. And the Warriors pulled within 96-93 with 2:58 to go before the Jazz emerged from a timeout to go on a game-changing 6-0 run. Jackson was slow to react during both runs, while David Lee and Klay Thompson appeared to lead Golden State as much, if not more, than the team's in-game coaching decisions.
Nate Robinson was 2 of 10 from the field.
Lee chose to sign with the Warriors. After watching him again torch Utah (team-high 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting, game-high 12 rebounds), it's a shame such a talented and hard-working player is spending his career in Golden State.
Check Sunday's Salt Lake Tribune for an in-depth feature about Watson.
Heading to San Antonio. Utah's 10-game rodeo is about to begin.
Brian T. Smith
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