Quin Snyder knows the schedule challenge his Jazz team will face in December. On paper, it will be the most difficult 31 days of the season for Utah. It will feature the best teams in the NBA, the best players in the league, a difficult six-game road trip and multiple back-to-backs.
“It’s certainly ominous,” Snyder said.
Snyder isn’t running from the reality. He’s also not going to deviate from the team’s normal routine and preparation. In terms of schedule strength, the Jazz, will be playing the most difficult month of basketball for any NBA team this season, according to various analyses. But for Snyder, and his players, the month is a challenge they want to confront, not run from.
“This is why we’re in the NBA,” Jazz forward Jonas Jerebko said. “A lot of us have been in the league long enough to have seen everything. We’re excited for the challenge and the opportunity. We’re in the NBA because we want to play against the best. This is a chance for us to do that.”
In December, the Jazz will play 15 games. Eleven of those are against teams with a .500 record or better. Three more are against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are currently 9-12, but have one of the most talented rosters in the league.
Wizards at Jazz
When • Monday, 7 p.m.
TV • ATTSN
Realistically, the Jazz will be a prohibitive favorite only once this month: a road game against the lowly Chicago Bulls at the United Center on the Dec. 13. They likely won’t be favored in any other game.
“You hear that the month is going to be tough, but we just have to go through it,” Utah forward Derrick Favors said. “We know that we’re going to have a challenge, so we need to pile up as many wins as possible before we hit the road.”
In addition to the triple-header against the Thunder, the Jazz will face the Houston Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers twice, and the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Washington Wizards, Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks once each.
The Jazz are playing their best basketball of the season. That’s their saving grace right now. With Friday’s 114-108 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, the Jazz have won five consecutive games and are doing so while missing Rudy Gobert, Joe Johnson, Raul Neto and now Rodney Hood.
The Jazz have defended better in the past two weeks, finding ways to keep opposing guards in front of them while also protecting the rim. Where the Jazz are really figuring things out is on offense. They’ve scored at least 100 points in all five games during the winning streak. They are moving the ball better. They are generating turnovers and converting in transition. They are playing well in fourth quarters and blowing teams out in the process.
“We’ve been playing really good basketball, but we know it’s about to get real,” Jazz center Ekpe Udoh said. “We’re just ready to get on the road and see what we have.”
Utah’s win couldn’t have come at a better time. The Jazz have kept themselves afloat with Gobert, Johnson, Hood and Neto dealing with various ailments. After Gobert was shelved with a bone contusion, the Jazz’s season initially appeared headed for the drain, but they have since stabilized and have been playing like a dangerous team.
The Jazz now have an overall +3.1 net rating, which ties them for fifth best in the Western Conference. They have 10 home wins, which ties them for best in the league and are now in the seventh spot in the Western Conference. That this has all come without Gobert in the lineup has to qualify as a minor miracle.
“We feel like we’re playing well, but we just have to continue to do the little things,” Favors said.
Utah rookie Donovan Mitchell has stepped to the forefront in this stretch and is a huge reason for the Jazz’s success. He scored a rookie franchise record 41 points in Friday’s win over New Orleans. He’s averaging 21.8 points in his last five games, while shooting 47 percent from 3-point range. He’s scored at least 20 points in three of his last five games and capped it off with the brilliant performance against the Pelicans.
So, as the Jazz get healthy, things seem to be falling in place. But the schedule will offer the strongest dose of reality. Utah’s dug itself out of an early season hole. The Jazz will have to play very well to avoid putting themselves in another.
DECEMBER’S FIVE TOUGHEST GAMES
Houston, Dec. 7 • The Rockets smoked the Jazz earlier in the season.
At Boston, Dec. 15 • This is a matchup of elite rookies: Donovan Mitchell vs. Jayson Tatum.
At Cleveland, Dec. 16 • Playing LeBron James on a back-to-back? That’s as difficult as it gets.
At Houston, Dec. 18 • The last time Utah went to Houston, James Harden scored 56 on the Jazz.
At Golden State, Dec. 27 • At the Warriors on a back-to-back? Tough to foresee a Jazz win here.