SALT LAKE CITY — Through the first two-and-a-half months of the Utah Jazz’s season, it was well-chronicled how difficult the team’s schedule was, as 25 of its opening 41 games were away from Vivint Arena. To boot, many of those road contests were against tough opponents, while a bunch of the home games were sandwiched in between two road ones.
As the Jazz struggled to a 20-21 record through the first half of the campaign after many people had expected them to be one of the best teams in the Western Conference, a beacon of light could be seen beginning Jan. 9, as Utah opened the second half of the season with 12 of its next 15 games at home.
After the Jazz’s 125-105 rout of the San Antonio Spurs last Saturday, that 15-game stretch, which spanned exactly a month, has passed. Tenth in the West and two games out of the playoff picture when the run of home games began, Utah went 12-3 (two home losses and one road loss) and was sixth in the West entering Monday night’s games.
The Jazz entered Monday night a half-game back of the Houston Rockets for fifth, although still with just a 1.5-game cushion on the eighth seed as the home-road balance of the schedule has evened out, with Utah having played 28 games at home and 28 on the road. Head coach Quin Snyder and company have 26 contests left in the regular season.
“It’s great to be at home,” said center Rudy Gobert. “It’s great to play in front of your fans and go home to your house instead of a hotel every night. It makes a difference. That’s why most of the teams in this league are better at home than on the road.”
The Jazz now have one game remaining before the All-Star break, a tilt Tuesday night against the defending champion Golden State Warriors on the road. After the break, they’ll have a nine-game stretch that will feature both some of the best teams in the NBA and some that are struggling.
From March 13-29, nine of their 10 matchups will be against teams not currently in the playoffs. They'll then play six games in April to conclude the regular season, the final four of which will be against Western Conference teams that will likely all be jockeying for playoff positioning.
Although Utah has performed well for the most part over the last month, players stopped short of saying major momentum has been built heading into the final leg of the season. Perhaps that’s fair, as just four of the 12 recent wins have come against teams in playoff position, and three of those were against teams with worse records than the Jazz.
Meanwhile, all three losses (two to the Portland Trail Blazers, one to the Rockets) came against teams with better records.
“Obviously you hope (momentum will carry over), but at the same time, we look at it as two seasons,” said forward Jae Crowder of the post-All-Star break schedule. “The second half of the season is much different from the first. We’re aware of it. Obviously whatever you did in the first half is in the first half of the season. It’s a new season coming up.”
Gobert echoed that idea.Comment on this story
“We know it’s still a long season and each game is very important,” he said. “We’ve got to keep doing what we’ve been doing. We’re getting better. The goal is always to keep getting better and to focus on the next game. Focus on the moment, and when it’s playoff time we’ll see who we’re facing.”
Derrick Favors noted the challenge of Tuesday night’s game against the Warriors and of the first few games after the All-Star break, but also didn’t shy away from the notion that the team is firmly in the postseason picture.
“We’ve got one more game coming up and then after All-Star break have some tough ones,” he said. “Just try to build as many wins as we can and try to make a playoff push.”