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The Weekly Run: With six games to go, the Utah Jazz once again control their home-court destiny

They’ve regained a one-game lead on the Phoenix Suns in the race for the Western Conference’s No. 1 playoff seed, and might have a slightly easier remaining schedule.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) dunks the ball, in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the Phoenix Suns, on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020.

(Some) Utah Jazz fans have been losing their collective minds over the team slipping into second place in the Western Conference standings behind the Phoenix Suns.

So Wednesday night’s developments, wherein the Jazz thumped San Antonio while the Suns got thumped by Atlanta, was quite the development, given that it gives Utah a full one-game lead in the standings, with each team having six to play.

Now, given that the Nuggets and Clippers are just four games back, they’re still technically in the hunt too, but realistically, the top seed is gonna come down to the Jazz and Suns.

I get the appeal of the top seed, for sure — one extra game per series in a building where Utah has lost a league-low four times (the next closest is seven home losses by the Sixers), though I definitely fall into the camp of the team being healthy being more important than chasing the top seed.

Two thoughts there: I believe that if the playoffs started today, we’d see both Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley in the starting lineup. Both probably can go right now; the point is wanting to ensure they’re not rushed back, only to tweak something again. Secondly, just to assuage the still-neurotic among you who apparently are of the opinion that the Jazz can’t possibly contend for a championship unless they have home-court advantage in every round, let’s piggyback on what my coverage partner Andy Larsen did in his “Triple Team” and examine the remaining schedules of Utah and Phoenix.

The Jazz are home Friday night against the Nuggets, then host the Rockets on Saturday. Normally, the late-season back-to-back would be worrisome, but Houston is terrible (and will also be on the second night of a B2B). Then Utah plays every other day after that until the end of the regular season. They’re at Golden State on Monday, and yes, Steph Curry is terrifying, but the rest of the team is pretty bad. The Blazers visit Wednesday — they’re 5-5 in their past 10, but weirdly way better on the road (21-13) than at home (16-16). The Jazz finish up with two road games against very mediocre teams: at OKC next Friday, and at Sacramento on Sunday the 16th. So, challenging, but hardly impossible.

As for the Suns’ remaining half-dozen games, they begin Friday with a visit from the sparky Knicks, then go to Los Angeles on Sunday to take on a reeling Lakers team desperate to avoid the play-in tournament. Like the Jazz, they’ll visit the Warriors — the night after Golden State hosts Utah, so bad news there. Next Thursday, they’re hosting Portland, who will also be on the second night of a B2B after facing the Jazz the night before, so another bummer. And Phoenix closes with its own road B2B set, in San Antonio against the Spurs. We’ll see if Pop & Co. can muster any more fight against the Suns than they did against the Jazz. So, probably tougher competition overall than what the Jazz have, but the potential benefit of facing a couple teams the Jazz may have worked over beforehand.

Quick hits (on the Jazz)

• Jordan Clarkson’s “I’m a hooper” comment postgame Wednesday annoyed a lot of people, if my Twitter mentions were any indication. People really hate the idea of a guy shooting 41.9% from the field and 34.2% from 3 admitting that, slump or not, he’s going to keep shooting. Obviously it’d be ideal if Clarkson were at peak efficiency like he was early in the season, but that was probably the exception. What the miffed crowd needs to keep in mind is another of JC’s quotes from Wednesday night: “Coach wants us to play this style, keep doing what we’re doing. So that’s all I can do.” Indeed, a big component of Quin Snyder’s offense is the gravity generated from opponents sticking with Clarkson knowing that he’s a shooter. And it’s worked all season. Quin doesn’t want anyone getting hesitant now.

• You know you’re dealing with a Jazz team when you just want to ask J.C. and Bojan Bogdanovic about combining for 54 points on 22-for-29 shooting (75.9%), and most of what they want to talk about is the defense that the team played. “We’re locked in defensively, really rotating, talking, communicating, shrinking the floor,” Jordan said.

• I’ll readily admit I did not see Trent Forrest as a legitimate contributor coming. I get that Quin felt the need to have another guy capable of ball-handling and defending out there with those two aforementioned guards out injured, but having seen Forrest play before (like, say, the recent game in Phoenix), I honestly thought he was a pretty big liability out there. I’m not saying he’s gonna keep getting minutes once the postseason rolls around (he’s not, barring injury or extreme and widespread foul trouble), but he’s been surprisingly functional of late. He still needs to be a more willing 3-point shooter, though.

• Thursday night’s injury report was a mixed bag: Donovan and Mike remain out against Denver, and second-year big man Juwan Morgan will join them on the sidelines, with right heel soreness. On the other hand, rookie center Udoka Azubuike, who’s been out since severely spraining his ankle in a G League game back on Feb. 10, is probable to suit up against the Nuggets.

• If you’re looking for some outside reading about the Jazz (What? I’m not enough for you anymore?!), might I suggest two articles: ESPN’s Tim MacMahon did a great look into Joe Ingles’ historic shooting season; and John Hollinger of The Athletic writes about why Rudy Gobert is the most underrated player in the NBA.

Random musings (on literally whatever)

This new bit is inspired by my Trib colleague Josh Newman’s fantastic “Red All Over” newsletter about University of Utah athletics — and specifically prompted by his Q&A wherein he answered a query about pineapple on pizza by responding, “Putting pineapple on pizza is a wild move that I am personally offended by. … It is a sacrilege and makes absolutely no culinary sense here in terms of pizza. Stop. Normalizing. Pineapple. On. Pizza.”

• Pineapple on pizza is wonderful and delicious. The sweet-and-salty interplay of a ham and pineapple pizza is a magnificent delicacy for your taste buds, and anyone claiming otherwise is a raving heretic unworthy of your consultation on pizza-related matters. Stop. Pineapple. On. Pizza. Shaming. … You. Weirdo.

• After I asked for questions for a newsletter Q&A a week ago by using “por favor” at the end of a tweet, a user asked me if I knew much Spanish. I used to know a little bit from junior high/high school/college but have forgotten most. (When I saw an NFL draft mini-profile on new Jets lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker talking about his granny cooking “bacalao,” some weird part of my brain excitedly remembered that meant “codfish.”) So I decided to start up some occasional lightweight lessons on the Duolingo app in random spare minutes I have. It’s been fun, but after [bleeping] up on translating “The teacher has to love all the children” about a million times, I’ll admit I got frustrated for a minute. (It’s “El maestro tiene que amar a todos los niños,” for the record. Nailed it!)

• Speaking of the NFL draft, I caught what I could, because I love the event, though much of Night 2 did happen to coincide with a Jazz game. I’m an Eagles fan with generally positive but slightly mixed reviews on their haul. LOVE the DeVonta Smith pick, worried about them taking an offensive lineman who’s torn BOTH of his ACLs, and wished they’d addressed cornerback before Round 4. How’d your team do?

• My family tried out one of those meal-prep services for a bit before deciding it was too expensive. Still, I enjoyed the process of learning to cook some things I never EVER would have tried on my own. Can safely say I definitely never would have had a crispy chickpea tabbouleh bowl otherwise, but hey, now I know what bulgur wheat and harissa powder are all about.

• Been watching a lot of “Star Trek” movies on free nights lately, because my wife is a “The Next Generation” fan, but neither of us were ever really into the original series. My reviews? The original series movies are pretty universally terrible (I’ve taken to referring to “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” as “Star Trek Saves the Whales”), the TNG offerings are a mixed bag, “Nemesis”=really good; “First Contact” and “Generations”=pretty OK; “Insurrection”=bad as the originals), and the remakes of the original crew in an alternate timeline are entertaining and eminently rewatchable.

The Weekly Top 5 …

The wife and I have very — VERY — disparate tastes in popular music, and so every now and then we’ll try and get the other to give a listen to something out of their usual wheelhouse. I spent an evening this week trying to get her to love the Rolling Stones, and while she was into the music, she just couldn’t get past her dislike of Mick Jagger’s voice. My backup choice for her to dive into was the Scorpions, whom she’s digging. Rock on Klaus Meine, Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs!

Her choice for me — give Blondie another go. I obviously know some of their big, big hits, and I’d made a brief attempt a few months prior at expanding, found a track or two I liked, but wasn’t really wowed and abandoned them pretty quickly. This time, I actually put in some effort and came away with a couple handfuls of songs that’ll go in the rotation.

And so, this week’s list is, Top 5 New-To-Me Blondie Songs:

1. Maria: This bouncy little bit of pop delight came out in 1999 — the band’s first new material in 17 years at that point. It has been stuck in my head pretty much the past three days, and that’s not a bad thing.

2. Long Time: The group’s most recent comeback was highlighted by the 2017 album “Pollinator,” which I’m quite enjoying. My fave track is “Long Time,” which wound up in the top 5 of the Billboard Dance chart.

3. Shayla: A more old-school selection! The fourth track off their fourth album, 1979′s “Eat to the Beat,” this song has a relatively straightforward and stripped-down approach for Blondie. I also just love Debbie Harry’s vocal performance.

4. Picture This: Their ’78 album, “Parallel Lines,” has some of the band’s biggest hits (I’m guessing you’ve heard of “Heart of Glass” and “One Way Or Another”?), but somehow I’d never before heard the lead single from the record.

5. Rifle Range: This cut from their 1976 debut self-titled album is a little wonky and off-kilter, but I think that’s what I like about it.

And as a non-Blondie little bonus, here’s pulling together my two musical suggestions to Mrs. TribJazz, wherein the Scorpions do a wonderful cover of the Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday.” Enjoy!

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