Jazz are 25-10 in the second half of the NBA season; is this team as good as last year’s?

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Ricky Rubio (3) and Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) high-five after a Gobert dunk as the Utah Jazz host the San Antonio Spurs, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Saturday Feb. 9, 2019.

The Jazz are now 25-10 in their last 35 games. That’s not quite as scintillating as last season’s 29-6 run to finish the season, but it’s not too far away.

But when you ask this Jazz team, players and coaches about whether or not they feel this season compares to last year’s, they cringe at the question. Whether it’s the NBA experience many of them have, or because of an early-season stretch where the team felt they had earned a bit more than they had and played with some complacency, the Jazz are very reluctant to discuss the similarities.

Instead, that’s been replaced with a mantra that’s echoed so often in media sessions that you might think there’s a record scratch somewhere: The Jazz want to get better in every game.

“What I’ve asked the guys to think about is not the playoffs or seeding or even winning, I want us to get better in these last games,” coach Quin Snyder said. “If we can do that, keep getting better, we give ourselves a better chance every night.”

Get better at what, coach?

For some guys, Snyder says it’s their health. Raul Neto and Ricky Rubio both have dealt with soft tissue injuries over the course of the season, and will need to make sure that they’re in peak condition going into the playoffs. It has appeared that Snyder has kept Neto and Rubio limited to about eight-minute stints of play in recent games, though it’s not clear how much of that has been about injury prevention vs. a normal rotation.

For others, there are still aspects of their individual skill development that can improve. Snyder started a list.

“Rudy [Gobert] has been working on the foul line, he knows what importance that has for our team. Donovan [Mitchell’s] been playing great offensively, and him being more consistent on the defensive end is something [assistant coach Johnnie Bryant] has been giving him a hard time for a while, that’s something he can take pride in. Joe Ingles and his leadership on the floor,” he said.

It’s true, Gobert’s somewhat in a slump at the free-throw line. Kyle Korver is another player who has been upset with his shooting form recently, and hopes to fix it and get it in tip-top shape in these next nine games.

The defense has been somewhat inconsistent. There are games like Saturday’s, in which the Jazz held the Bulls to just an 84 offensive rating and only two 3-point shots all game long. But there are still some games, even just some stretches, in which the Jazz don’t provide enough urgency on that end of the floor.

Look at Thursday’s loss to Atlanta, where the Jazz allowed 19 made 3-pointers to the Hawks. In that game, the Jazz seemed to have things under control, until a quick Atlanta run fueled by only two lapses turned things around in a hurry. Even in the Chicago game, a 12-4 run to pull the Jazz’s lead to a still-dominant 28-points forced a Snyder timeout, and a conversation.

“I think we can improve on little areas,” Mitchell said. “We can’t continue to let teams come back.” He cited the Jazz’s loss to New Orleans, when the team let a 17-point lead slip through its fingers, as another example.

Ingles agreed with Mitchell.

“It’s about tightening up everything. We’ve had games where we get up 12-16, and they get it back to 6. It’s obviously picking a small thing, but we can be better than we have been.”

So no, 25-10 isn’t good enough, and neither was 29-6 last year, for that matter.

“Coach goes for perfection, and as players, we’re going for that as well,” Ingles said. "We’re pretty good where we’re at, but we always want more.”


At Vivint Smart Home Arena

Tipoff Monday, 7 p.m.


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Records • Jazz 43-30; Suns 17-57

Last meeting • Jazz, 114-97 (Mar 13)

About the Jazz • Dante Exum is out due to a partially torn patellar tendon. … Grayson Allen has been assigned to the G League SLC Stars, who play their first-round matchup of the G League Playoffs against the Oklahoma City Blue on Tuesday. … The Jazz have have outrebounded teams by an average of 6.7 rebounds per game in the month of March.

About the Suns • Tyler Johnson (sore knee), Kelly Oubre (thumb surgery) and T.J. Warren (sore ankle) are out. … Josh Jackson (sprained ankle) is questionable. … Suns signed former BYU guard Jimmer Fredette last week. … Fredette finished fourth in Chinese Basketball Association scoring this season (behind Pierre Jackson, Darius Adams, and Joe Young), averaging 36.0 points per game. … Fredette went scoreless in 4 minutes with the Suns in their last game vs. Sacramento.