The Utah Jazz passed the midway mark of the season a couple of weeks ago and will enter the All-Star break with a winning record no matter what they do in their next two games.
But that doesn’t make the games any less important.
Thunder at Jazz
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This is a time when some teams try to back into the All-Star break, coach Tyrone Corbin said, "and just get through it and come out ready to come out in the second half."
In his mind, though, the Jazz have to be more aggressive, after back-to-back losses to the Chicago Bulls on Friday and at the Sacramento Kings on Saturday.
"We have to play our way through it," Corbin said after the 120-109 loss to the Kings. "We’ve done a good job so far. Last night [against the Bulls] was a tough loss for us, but I thought we fought with an effort there. But tonight I thought we lost a tough game."
The Jazz (28-24) had a chance to move back to six games over .500 at Sleep Train Arena, but ended up splitting the season series with the Kings, including a 99-91 overtime loss earlier in the week at EnergySolutions Arena.
Two wins this week against the Oklahoma City Thunder and at the Minnesota Timberwolves, though, could equalize the Jazz’s travails in the last two games.
The Jazz entered Sunday tied for seventh place in the Western Conference with the Houston Rockets — the same team that beat them by 48 points in late January.
All that’s standing in the way of a strong statement before the All-Star break? One of the Western Conference’s best teams.
"We just dropped two in a row," Jazz forward Paul Millsap said. "These next two games are important for us coming into the break. It will give us a little momentum going into the break, especially after we dropped these last two."
Jazz guard Earl Watson returned to the Jazz lineup Saturday, scoring 4 points in 23 minutes. The veteran point guard returned to his role as the primary backup point guard and oversaw a second quarter against the Kings in which his team erased an 11-point deficit.
On Jan. 30 against New Orleans, Watson banged knees with a Hornets player and both a bone bruise and a non-displaced stress fracture in his right knee.
Following the Jazz’s loss in Sacramento, Watson said he felt no pain in his leg and that he was 100 percent.
"I thought he did a good job," Corbin said. "I thought he came out and gave us a lot of energy. He played well with the second group. He’s getting himself back in shape, but I thought he played well for us, and he again with that second group gave us some energy."
Watson has been limited to 33 games this season after the front end of his season was cut off by late-season surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.
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