The young Utah Jazz aren’t quite ready to compete for a postseason berth, but their late-season push is providing some hope for a promising future.
Coming off a nearly perfect road swing, the Jazz look to keep rolling with their 10th win in 13 games Tuesday night when they open a five-game homestand against the league-worst New York Knicks.
Utah (26-36) began the season with the NBA’s third-youngest roster and struggled through a 1-12 stretch from Nov. 21-Dec. 16. The Jazz, however, are now playing like a team on the rise despite being 8 1/2 games out of a playoff spot in the loaded Western Conference.
Following a stunning 93-82 win at Memphis to open a four-game trip March 3, Utah rallied from a late eight-point deficit before Boston’s buzzer-beater in an 85-84 loss the following night. The Jazz bounced back with an 89-83 victory at Philadelphia on Friday and a 95-88 win at Brooklyn in Sunday’s finale.
Only Indiana (9-2), Golden State (10-3) and Oklahoma City (10-3) have better records than Utah (9-3) since Feb. 7. The club has won seven of 10 with the lineup of Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, Dante Exum and Joe Ingles.
Hayward – averaging a team-high 19.5 points – totaled 49 in the final two games of the trip. Favors is also playing well, scoring 18.5 per game on 56.0 percent shooting in his past six.
Gobert is averaging 14.0 rebounds and 2.6 blocks over the past eight games. He’s one of the reasons Utah owns an NBA-best plus-4.5 rebounding margin, while New York sits near the bottom of the league at minus-2.9.
”I think we’re beginning to have an identity,” coach Quin Snyder said. ”Doesn’t mean we’re a good team yet. Getting better. But I think we’re starting to find out who we are and how we need to play to be a good team.”
Snyder’s club also has been the league’s best defensive team since the All-Star break, allowing a league-low average of 83.6 points while ranking second with a 39.8 defensive field-goal percentage in those nine games.
That certainly isn’t a good sign for the Knicks (12-50), who are 29th in the league at 92.3 points per game. The Knicks have been even more anemic of late, averaging 83.0 points on 38.3 percent shooting during their four-game slide.
Without Tim Hardaway Jr. (back) and Jose Calderon (Achilles), New York was outscored 52-30 in the paint and 20-9 on fast-break points Monday as it became the first team to 50 losses in a 106-78 rout at Denver.
”When you have guys out it’s a reality, and every team goes through it,” said coach Derek Fisher, whose squad dressed 10 players. ”That really doesn’t excuse any particular effort by any particular guy on our team.”
Alexey Shved was a bright spot with a season high-tying 19 points, and he’s averaged 14.4 over his last five games.
Hayward scored a season-high 33, Favors added 21 points and 12 rebounds and Trey Burke hit a long jumper at the buzzer in Utah’s 102-100 road win over the Knicks on Nov. 14. The Jazz ended a six-game losing streak in the series.
New York, 4-27 on the road, has dropped each of its 11 away games versus West foes by an average of 16.3 points.