Jazz need to change their playoff tune

Mar 28, 2017 3:08 AM

As we turn the corner into April and start seeing division and conference races wrap up, Utah seems to be headed in the wrong direction.

After losing at Staples Center on Saturday afternoon, the Jazz got some help from the Rockets on Sunday in a 137-125 win against Oklahoma City that extended their lead in the Northwest Division back to 2.5 games as they head down the stretch.

Utah entered Monday’s game against the Pelicans with just nine contests remaining as it attempts to maintain its grip on a one-game edge on the Clippers for the fourth seed in the Western Conference race, which would mean a playoff series would open in Salt Lake City if they can hang on to the No. 4 seed.

The Jazz haven’t won the Northwest since 2008, led by Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer with a young Paul Millsap coming off the bench and the now retired Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur playing critical roles. They hadn’t made the postseason since 2012 and haven’t won a playoff game since 2010.

After falling in L.A., there was some panic expressed in not resting on their laurels and stumbling at a time when others ramp up to a playoff level.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring,” center Rudy Gobert said following the loss to the Clippers, attempting to light a fire under his group for the stretch run. “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

This isn’t a good look, especially since so many of the Jazz key figures haven’t experienced a postseason. Derrick Favors has been injured for much of the season due to a knee issue, so the Jazz are already without one of their key difference makers. Point guard George Hill has the most playoff experience due to his history with the Spurs and Pacers, but he’s also been dealing with health problems.

Top scorer Gordon Hayward exited in the fourth quarter against the Clips with a thigh contusion and is considered questionable entering the week, but the injury looked a lot worse and could’ve severely set back this group if there had been a different outcome. The team got great news when x-rays came back negative for anything serious. If he misses a game or two, Utah will be more reliant on Rodney Hood, who has had his own knee issues of late.

Although Utah officially clinched a playoff spot on Sunday, it still has work to do if it plans on holding on to the No. 4 spot since the loss to the Clippers means they’ve dropped the season series 3-1.

Quin Snyder has been disappointed with how his team has opened games of late, lacking the requisite fire to compete with the better teams in the league and casting doubt on their ability to hang with the best in the West. This is one of their final four home games and should be considered a must-win considering they’ve dropped four out of five. Although they’ve got Gobert as an anchor to one of the NBA’s top defenses, the last three games have each gone over the posted total, making it six of nine that have gone over. After not surrendering 100 points in three consecutive games since January, Utah has seen it happen on two separate occasions over their last nine.

The Jazz haven’t been headed in the right direction despite celebrating a breakthrough since they’ve already recorded their most wins since 2010. Unless they turn things around, it should give you pause about backing them to make a run in a Western Conference that has been dominated by the Warriors, Spurs and Rockets, teams that have been playing their best ball of late and entered the week sporting lengthy winning streaks.

Utah opened at 40-to-1 to win the Western Conference when odds were originally posted during the offseason and are 25-to-1 at the moment at the WestgateLV Superbook. They’re a tempting choice at 50-to-1 to win an NBA championship since they’ve been so sound defensively, but their recent decline is most definitely a step in the wrong direction. If OKC catches them for the division or the Clippers find a way to wrestle the No. 4 seed away, you should steer clear of this meltdown.