“40 before 20.”
That’s an old Phil Jackson chestnut, one that the former Lakers and Bulls coach believed separated the elite teams from the rest. If you could pick up 40 wins before you hit 20 losses, you were legitimate.
Every single one of Jackson’s 11 championship teams managed the feat, despite some closer calls where, say, Shaquille O’Neal didn’t exactly bring his A-game all season long. Twenty-eight of the last 31 champions have done it, a success rate of over 90%. Not too shabby for such a simplistic bar. The 1994-95 Houston Rockets, 2003-04 Detroit Pistons, and the 2005-06 Miami Heat are the three exceptions.
The Jazz, who stand at 36-18, have a chance to accomplish the feat for the first time since the 2006-07 season. That year, they made it to the Western Conference Finals, the most recent season they’ve done so.
To make it happen in the 2019-20 season, they’ll need to go at least 4-1 on this 5-game homestand upcoming, one that features matchups against the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Phoenix Suns, Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards. That’s a tough task, but it is doable. And if the Jazz were to achieve the accomplishment, it might point toward greater growth.
“We understand there’s another level this team can get to and a level where we have to get to if we’re going to make strides and steps towards the ultimate goal,” Mike Conley said.
That was the mantra after an engaging practice on Thursday. On Wednesday, the team met for the first time since All-Star break for a “pro day,” with largely independent workouts and film study. Thursday’s practice was more physical — Conley had sweat through his Jazz-issued t-shirt, for example. That was due to the team practicing fundamentals, the ones coach Quin Snyder says “will make us a good team.” He listed them:
“Making sure we’re out running, spacing, making accurate passes where we have a chance to shoot or make the next play,” Snyder said. “In defending, containing the ball, being ready to fire over and help each other if someone gets beat. Just being connected on defense and offense.”
That’ll be necessary given the number of defensive challenges the Jazz will face over the five-game homestand. San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan’s midrange game is going to require the Jazz to defend differently than the Rockets’ unusual no-center look the next night. They know what Ricky Rubio and the Phoenix Suns will bring, but then Wednesday’s matchup against Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and the Celtics will be a tough test for the Jazz’s defensive wing players. Oh, and Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter will both be returning to Utah, making it an emotional night.
“We got to pick it up, you know, make this final push to see where things take us,” Royce O’Neale said.
The schedule is also compact — Utah begins things with a back to back, before playing every other day through next Friday. The team announced that Conley won’t play Friday’s matchup against the Spurs, instead saving him for Saturday’s Rockets game. Conley has missed most back-to-backs this season as the Jazz manage an old knee injury to ensure he’s at 100% for the playoffs.
Even when not playing, Conley is one of the locker room leaders. And so he’s made it clear that he expects the Jazz to come out of the break without any rust. “Especially these last couple of days, we’ve been locked in on coming in with a better sense of urgency,” he said.
After all, Phil Jackson’s stamp of approval is at stake.
JAZZ VS. SPURS
At Vivint Smart Home Arena
Tipoff • Friday, 7 p.m.
TV • AT&T SportsNet
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 36-18; Spurs 23-31
Last meeting • Spurs, 127-120 (Jan. 29)
About the Jazz • Mike Conley will sit Friday’s game due to rest, as the Jazz continue to sit him on one end of each back-to-back the Jazz play. ... He is slated to play Saturday vs. Houston. ... Jazz are otherwise healthy. ... Jordan Clarkson score 20+ points in three consecutive games before the All-Star break, all Jazz wins.
About the Spurs • San Antonio went into the All-Star break healthy. ... The Spurs were the only NBA team with zero participants in All-Star festivities, including the All-Star Game, dunk contest, 3-point contest, skills challenge and the rookie-sophomore game. ... former Jazzman Trey Lyles has started in 44 of the 54 Spurs games this season, though is averaging only 5.4 points per game in the role.