Utah Jazz: Utah beats Portland to stay in playoff position
By bill oram
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Apr 01 2013 11:47PM
They put the brakes on one trend and reversed course. The season has become one, big chase-down block. The same Utah Jazz team that 10 days ago couldn’t stop losing, now can’t stop winning.
The countdown to a surprising playoff berth is now at seven games after the Jazz beat the Portland Trail Blazers 112-102 in front of 18,336 at EnergySolutions Arena.
It was their fifth straight win after a four-game losing streak, and it came against a team that shot 58 percent from the field and made 13 3-pointers. But the Jazz (39-36) rarely gave away the ball, and when Mo Williams did release it, it was almost always a good thing.
Something has changed for a Jazz team that fell out of the playoff picture like victims of an NBA trap door. Derrick Favors distilled it down to one word.
"Playoffs," he said. "We understand that we want to stay in the eighth spot, move up, whatever. Just playoffs."
The Jazz moved a half game ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers for eighth. The Lakers (38-36) play Tuesday against the Dallas Mavericks, who sit just a game back in the loss column.
"We struggled there for a little while but this team is just continuing to get better and better," coach Tyrone Corbin said. "Now we believe."
All five Jazz starters reached double figures, led by 24 points and 10 rebounds from Jefferson, who earlier in the day was named the Western Conference Player of the Week. The last time the Jazz (39-36) won as many games in a row was the end of 2012, when they scored victories in their final five games to sneak into the playoffs.
Déjà vu, much?
"Same type of theme this year," Gordon Hayward said.
The Jazz have spiked before this season. A frustrating year was sprinkled with eyebrow-raising victories: a buzzer-beater to beat San Antonio, a floater by Hayward to beat Miami, a blowout over Oklahoma City.
The Jazz, however, don’t want their season to be defined by short bursts of excellence. Losses Wednesday against Denver, Friday versus New Orleans or Sunday in Golden State could undercut the importance of their current streak.
"We’ve seen this before," Hayward said. "Hopefully we don’t go on a four- or five-game drought. It’s good that we get to play at home for a lot of these games. Denver’s going to be a big test."
For more than a week, the Jazz have been pencils-down long before time was up. Each of their five wins has come by nine or more points. This is a team that seemed on the brink of disintegration following a blowout in Oklahoma City in March, and a subsequent home loss to the depleted Knicks.
With seven players headed for free agency, it’s easy to question what stake marquee players hold in this team. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, whose hundred-foot high likenesses currently wrap around EnergySolutions Arena, could both be gone next year. So could Mo Williams.
"We’ve known it all year long that the guys are whatever," coach Tyrone Corbin said. "But we’re a family now. ... It goes a long way to showing who you are."
The Jazz beat the Trail Blazers, minus LaMarcus Aldridge, for the second time in four nights, relying on a blend of half-court precision and zippy transition offense. While the Trail Blazers filled out the stat sheet nicely, the Jazz were never really in danger of relinquishing the lead after a third quarter in which they went up by 13 thanks to Mo Williams’ sixth 3-pointer of the game.
Two nights after Randy Foye tied a team record with eight 3-pointers, Williams was 6-of-7 from the perimeter and finished with 20 points, 9 assists and just one turnover.
"It’s always good to play well," Williams said. "You always sleep better, especially when you win. That’s the most important thing. Right now, it’s coming at a great time. We need to win more than ever."