Utah Jazz's schedule about to get tougher
And this was supposed to be the easy part of the schedule.
With 24 games remaining in the season, wins are as elusive for the Jazz as consistent point guard play and reliable interior defense. They enter Friday's game against Charlotte on a three-game losing streak, lumped in a morass at the back-end of the Western Conference playoff chase along with other middle-of-the-roaders Golden State, Houston and the Los Angeles Lakers.
"We're trying to make a push for position in the playoffs," guard Gordon Hayward said, "so the fact that we've lost focus in these last few games is not very good."
The game against the Bobcats will cap a 20-game stretch in which the Jazz played 15 of 20 games at home, an opportunity the Jazz viewed as a chance to make up significant ground in the conference. Entering Friday, they have gone 11-8 in that stretch, including back-to-back losses to Boston, in overtime, and the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday.
Now, with as many as four players battling injuries this week, things are looking bleaker for the Jazz.
"Every game is so important," coach Tyrone Corbin said. "If you look at the match-ups and where the records are and the playoff implications and the tiebreaker implications, all that comes into play now. As much as you can you want to avoid losing a few games in a row."
This is the fourth time this season the Jazz have lost three games in a row. And while those losses counted just as much against the Jazz as the recent trio, they have less time to recover from this blow.
The Lakers were four games over .500 in February entering Thursday's game against Minnesota and Kobe Bryant recently pledged to Sports Illustrated that the Lakers would make the playoffs. The Warriors have faltered in the sixth slot and the Rockets haven't exactly been pushing the Jazz for No. 7.
"We feel good about our position," Corbin said, "but we don't feel great about how we're playing just yet, right now. We've got to get more consistent, we've got to figure out the third quarters and we've got to defend better."
Entering Thursday, the Jazz were three games up on the Lakers over whom they own the tiebreaker two behind the Warriors and one-half of a game ahead of the Rockets.
"We have to stop worrying about what other teams are doing," point guard Earl Watson said, "and just focus on us. We're too busy worrying about teams losing, teams dropping, maybe we can catch this team. Just be the best team we can be each day."
The only losses the Jazz can control are the ones that haven't happened yet. After a 10-win January, the Jazz were 6-6 in February. March looks even more treacherous.
Nine of 16 games will be played on the road, and six of those road games are against teams with winning records.
"We obviously have to pick it up," Hayward said, "can't let this losing streak go any further."
The Jazz play nine road games in March, including these toughies:
March 9, at New York • The revitalized Knicks are third in the East and 21-8 at Madison Square Garden.
March 13, at Oklahoma City • The most exciting team in the Western Conference already beat the Jazz once at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
March 22, at San Antonio • The Jazz have lost six games in a row in San Antonio, including last year's playoffs sweep.
March 29, at Portland • Always a tough match-up for Utah, this will be to hold off another team fighting for contention.
Jazz vs. Bobcats
P At EnergySolutions Arena
Tip-off • 7 p.m.
TV • Root Sports
Radio • 1280 AM, 1600 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 31-27, Bobcats 13-44
Season series • Jazz, 1-0
Last meeting • Jazz, 112-102 (Jan. 9)
About the Jazz • They have lost three straight games, including two at home. â¦ They have beaten Charlotte seven straight times, going back to Nov. 14, 2008. â¦ They are 13-8 against Eastern Conference opponents. â¦ C Al Jefferson (ankle), F Paul Millsap (ankle) and G/F DeMarre Carroll (knee) are questionable.
About the Bobcats • They have lost 12 of their last 14 games, including four straight. â¦ Since a 4-2 start this season, they are 9-42. â¦ They are led by G Kemba Walker, who averages 17.6 points and 5.5 assists per game. â¦ F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 2 pick in last year's draft, averages nine points and 5.6 rebounds.