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Jazz trying not to let complacency creep in with four more games vs. teams with losing records up next

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Ricky Rubio (3) reacts after scoring a big 3-point shot late in the 4th quarter, in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the Washington Wizards, in Salt Lake City, Friday, March 29, 2019.

After blowing all of a 15-point third-quarter lead against the Wizards on Friday night before pulling the game out in the final minutes, Jazz coach Quin Snyder was asked if his team perhaps had gotten a little complacent.

“That could be said for sure,” he agreed, before going on to disagree. “I don’t think that’s something we want to point to — we weren’t complacent or [not] urgent when we got up [15].”

That said, he did acknowledge that while he didn’t find that to be the specific issue in the Washington game, that didn’t mean it hasn’t been the issue at other times.

It is human nature to some degree, after all, to let up a bit once you’ve achieved a substantial advantage. Then, there is the fact that Utah’s second-half schedule has been littered with lottery-bound opponents, who theoretically are either inferior competition or not playing with peak effort or efficiency.

Regardless of the reasons, the coach did concede that, while the defense is typically posting stellar numbers, and the offense seems to be going well of late, there have been times this season when taking the foot off the gas — be it for an entire game, or merely a segment of one — has been a problem the Jazz have had to overcome.

“For us, it’s more about being able to maintain our focus and our urgency in those situations,” Snyder said. “It’s been something that this group — it’s happened, it’s happened enough times for us to recognize that it’s something we’ve got to be aware of and deal with and do better.”

The last time the Jazz played a team in playoff position was eight games ago, on March 16 against the Brooklyn Nets, who have not yet clinched a postseason berth but are presently occupying the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference.

And the last time the Jazz have faced an opponent that actually has already punched its playoff ticket was three games before that, on March 11 against the Thunder.

It’s not an issue that’s going away, either. Of Utah’s six remaining games, only the final two — a back-to-back set, home against the Nuggets, then at the Clippers — feature playoff-bound teams with winning records.

The next four on the slate, starting with Monday’s game against Charlotte at Vivint Smart Home Arena, are all against sub-.500 competition. And the Hornets are the only team of that quartet not yet eliminated from postseason contention.

So given that, while the Jazz certainly weren’t happy about giving the lead away against the Wizards, they could at least find a silver lining in it.

“That’s definitely the positive. You wanna get that 18-, 20-point lead and keep it, extend it out, but at this time of year, there’s gonna be close games coming,” said Kyle Korver. “And so for us to have some in-game decisions to make, shots to make, plays to make, it’s probably good for us.”

Point guard Ricky Rubio agreed.

“It’s good to get a game like that,” he said, “because the playoffs aren’t gonna be [easy].”

Of course, as the Wizards game showed, sometimes the supposedly “easy” games turn out to be not so easy, either.

Korver conceded that having that many games in a row against non-playoff teams, while potentially good for bolstering the Jazz’s record (which it has done, considering they’ve won nine their last 10), could also prove problematic in terms of not doing everything quite the right way.

“This time of year, when [some] teams aren’t in the playoff chase anymore, games just get kind of weird,” he said. “And after you get a few weird games, it’s easy for some bad habits [to creep in], or to lose a little urgency.”

Snyder would like to see his group excise those bad habits as soon as possible. After all, the Jazz still have plenty to play for, even if their opponents don’t.

“There’s so many unpredictable variables right now as far as where people finish — from 1 to 8,” he said. “It’s really a unique year in that sense. So you want to play well. … Right now, our team’s focus is on being as good as we can be when it comes time to play in the playoffs.”

JAZZ VS. HORNETS

At Vivint Smart Home Arena

Tipoff • Monday, 7 p.m.

TV • AT&T SportsNet

Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM

Records • Jazz 46-30; Hornets 35-40

Last meeting • Jazz, 119-111 (Nov. 30)

About the Jazz • Utah has won four straight games, and nine of its last 10 overall. … This will be the team’s final game against an Eastern Conference opponent this season, barring a trip to the NBA Finals. … In the teams’ last matchup, the Jazz had a big night from 3-point range, hitting 18 shots from deep and making 45.0% of their attempts.

About the Hornets • Charlotte will be on the second half of a back-to-back, after playing the Warriors in Oakland on Sunday. … The Hornets have a productive second unit, ranking fifth in the NBA in bench points per game, at 42.8. … All-Star guard Kemba Walker ranks 13th in the NBA with 25.2 ppg. His 3.2 3-pointers made per game rank him fifth in the league.

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