Jazz look to advance to playoffs for first time since 2012
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) The Utah Jazz are in position to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 season and finish above .500 for the first time since 2012-13. This would be the first time most of the roster has been in the playoffs.
The Jazz are healthier than they've been most of the season and begin the push for the postseason Thursday night in Washington.
''It's going to be tough,'' Hayward said. ''We're still a young team. At this point is when teams start to pick it up and intensity starts to rise a little bit and you start to feel it.''
The Jazz (26-26) currently sit in the No. 8 slot for the Western Conference playoffs. They're tied with the No. 7 Trail Blazers (27-27) with a .500 winning percentage and are 1 1/2 games behind the No. 6 Mavericks. The Rockets are half-game behind the Jazz.
Only Hayward, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Trevor Booker have played in a playoff game. Hayward, Favors and Burks have been in just one series and the quartet have a combined 21 playoff games on their resume.
Hayward said he was surprised, at the time, with the post-All Star game change in intensity among teams in the playoff race.
''It's another notch,'' Hayward said. ''That's why experience is such a huge thing in this league. You've got guys that played 10-plus seasons and know how it works. When I was a rookie, veterans just seemed to have another level. Hopefully we can raise our game to another level, too.
''We talk about it a little bit amongst the guys. You can feel it. The fans will feel it too, so that will help them out. Honestly a lot of it is just experiencing it. Just playing in it, playing through it.''
The Jazz finished the 2014-15 season on a 19-10 stretch after the All-Star game as Rudy Gobert came into his own and Hayward and Favors continued their development. That was the sixth-best winning percentage in the entire league after the break. Snyder said they may need a similar run to make the playoffs this season.
That will become an easier task once Burks and his 14.3 points per game returns from a fractured left fibula suffered Dec. 26.
''I just want us to keep getting better,'' Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. ''We did that the last 30 games last year. If we can be better after 10 games and finish the season the last 10 games better than that, we'll have an opportunity to compete for something.''
Still, the Jazz are the youngest team in the league in terms of NBA experience and few on the roster have been in a playoff race. Only Hayward, Favors and Booker have more than five years of NBA experience.
Starters Rodney Hood, Gobert and Raul Neto, a rookie, certainly haven't been in this situation. Neither has 2013 first-round pick Trey Burke or 2015 first-round pick Trey Lyles.
That's most of the rotation.
The feel each night will be different with much more at stake. And none of the teams in the race want to face the likely No. 1 seed Warriors (48-4), the defending champions, in the first round.
The Jazz have been a competitive team on a nightly basis since the All-Star break last season, when healthy. Snyder hopes all the close games helped the team prepare for the change in atmosphere.
''There's all these firsts,'' Snyder said. ''You can prepare for them as best you can, but the only real way to have that growth is to experience it. Hopefully that's where we've been.''