Knowing that Jazz coach Quin Snyder is not obsessed with the NBA standings, I asked him anyway: Is he relieved that his team is in the Western Conference playoff picture?
He almost played along.
“I try not to know anybody’s record right now,” Snyder said. But “I think there was a sense when Rudy [Gobert] went out that the wheels would come off.”
Really? Who thought that would happen? OK, I did suggest on Nov. 13, after a bad-looking loss to Minnesota, that the Jazz might never get back to .500 this season. And that possibility is in play Thursday, when the Jazz (10-11) visit the Los Angeles Clippers, who are missing Blake Griffin.
Snyder has kept his team together, as he always does. The Jazz are not quite as good as they looked in the second half of Tuesday’s 106-77 defeat of Denver at Vivint Smart Home Arena, but they’re certainly playing better than they did in the initial phase of Gobert’s absence with a knee injury.
The Jazz are eighth in the West, a position they probably won’t maintain during a December schedule that ESPN Stats & Information ranks as the toughest month any NBA team will face this season. The schedule includes three games with Oklahoma City (8-11), and the Thunder are not going to stay behind the Jazz forever. So the Jazz eventually will have to catch somebody ahead of them to make the playoffs, which remains challenging.
The good news is that Gobert appears on track to return sometime soon and Joe Johnson eventually will play as well. Thanks to Snyder’s work, the Jazz haven’t crumbled. They were missing Rodney Hood on Tuesday, when they managed to stay close to Denver (missing Paul Millsap) in the first half, then went crazy. The Jazz outscored the Nuggets 58-28 in the second half and 30-11 in the fourth quarter.
Derrick Favors (24 points) was impressive, and the Jazz got 11 points from Royce O’Neal in a fill-in role. It was good stuff, inspiring some belief that they can get back to .500 soon. Even if the Jazz lose Thursday, they could get to 12-12 by beating New Orleans and Washington at home.
They’ll be tested in December, though. The Jazz will have a stretch of 8 of 10 games on the road, where they’re 1-7 this season. During the Snyder era, I’ve complained that the Jazz should be more of a dominant home team, considering their road performance. Their response is becoming worse on the road.
So we’ll see what the next month brings, but November has to be declared a mild success, regardless of what happens Thursday in Los Angeles.