Whether it was on sunny beaches, ski slopes, or the comforts of their own homes, the Jazz were able to take full advantage of the all-star break and get away for a bit.
But with the break over, Utah returns to the court rested, rejuvenated, and focused for a postseason push.
The proverbial second half of the season gets for Utah gets underway on Friday night when they host Dallas in a massive showdown between two teams battling for playoff positioning — with tipoff set for 7 p.m. MST. Entering Friday, the Jazz are ranked No. 4 in the Western Conference while the Mavericks are No. 5, just 1.5 games behind.
aaaaand we’re back
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) February 25, 2022
“I think for everyone, there’s the point during that time where you’re able to kind of recharge,” head coach Quin Snyder said on Thursday. “I think it was good to a lot of our guys, even just mentally and emotionally.”
It’s a big game for both teams following the all-star break, the first of three meetings over the final six weeks. But just because Utah will face the Mavericks twice more, it doesn’t mean this game doesn’t hold significant meaning.
Following the win over Dallas on Christmas Day, another victory would allow the Jazz to split the season series at a minimum. It would also give them some breathing room over the Mavericks moving forward, vital considering the difficulty of Utah’s schedule the rest of the way.
Over the final 24 games, Utah will play opponents with an average winning percentage of .517, which would rank as the fifth toughest schedule to close out the season.
Eleven games will be played against teams currently ranked in the top-6 of either conference. When bumping that to the top-10 of each conference — those currently in the play-in — that number jumps to 17, including 12 straight from March 14 through April 5.
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) February 25, 2022
Aware of the difficulty, Utah returned to practice on Thursday with a purpose. Not only were players significantly tanner — according to Donovan Mitchell — there was a different level of focus when watching film and spending time on the court.
“I think for us, we’ve got some work to do,” Mitchell said. “We know that, and you can tell with everybody’s purpose and movements. … Guys are ready to go. We got to go out there and find ways to win and compete at the highest level.”
The rest did wonders for a Utah team that suffered through one of the worst months under Snyder.
January was no laughing matter as the Jazz dealt with a myriad of injuries and health and safety protocols, leading to a rarely healthy team throughout the month. Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Mike Conley combined to play in just four games together, leading to a 4-12 record in the month.
But according to Snyder, the month actually served a positive purpose as the team came together. Rather than fight within and crumble, a sense of optimism grew, allowing the Jazz to take full advantage of the break.
“We had a rough January,” Snyder said. “I think that that stretch of injury and COVID-19 and some losses just can take a lot out of you. … I think it brought us together too. I mean I think the way we’ve played of late is a reflection kind of how our team handled that adversity during that time.”
| “That’s the mark of a team that’s composed, and you understand you’ve got to go through adversity to get to the top.”https://t.co/MC2BQKoFdG
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) February 23, 2022
Before a heartbreaking loss to the Lakers last Wednesday, the Jazz turned things around with six consecutive victories to start February. But even that loss to Los Angeles felt like an anomaly as Utah dominated the Lakers for three and a half quarters before inexplicably struggling in the end.
“I was really happy with the way we have continuously played throughout the past few weeks,” Mitchell said. “It’s one of those things that’ll stick with us (Loss to LA). Hopefully, in June, we’ll look back and say, ‘thank God LA happened,’ because now we understand and we can use it as a moment to push forward.”’
That moment of pushing forward and playing towards June begins Friday night against Luka Doncic and the Mavericks.
“You have to be healthy, have to be a little bit lucky, and you have to be playing well,” Snyder said. “That means you have to be playing well as a team. … On an individual level, guys have gotta be playing well. And those two things are connected.”
“I feel like something happened within our team. … I feel like we’re a team that’s trying to accomplish something.”https://t.co/wdCQceBTuV
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) February 22, 2022
Utah (36-22, 21-10 home / No. 4 Western Conference)
*113.7 Points Per Game (No. 4 in NBA)
*115.9 Offensive Rating (No. 1 in NBA)
*106.9 Points Per Game (No. 9 in NBA)
*100.9 Defensive Rating (No. 10 in NBA)
*Donovan Mitchell: 25.7 points / 5.2 assists / 4.2 rebounds / 1.6 steals
*Rudy Gobert: 15.7 points / 14.8 rebounds / 2.3 blocks / 71.1% shooting
*Bojan Bogdanovic: 17.8 points / 4.4 rebounds / 38.0% 3P-shooting
*Mike Conley: 13.8 points / 5.3 assists / 41.0% 3P-shooting
Dallas (35-24, 15-13 away / No. 5 Western Conference)
*106.6 Points Per Game (No. 24 in NBA)
*110.8 Offensive Rating (No. 16 in NBA)
*103.3 Points Per Game (No. 2 in NBA)
*107.2 Defensive Rating (No. 5 in NBA)
*Luka Doncic: 27.5 points / 9.2 rebounds / 9.0 assists
*Jalen Brunson: 16.3 points / 5.4 assists / 37.2% 3P-shooting
*Dorian Finney-Smith: 10.1 points / 4.8 rebounds / 37.2% 3P-shooting
MATCHUP TO WATCH
*Donovan Mitchell vs. Luka Doncic
— It’s one of the best matchups in basketball — two of the biggest stars in Mitchell and Doncic going head-to-head. Both players are not just capable of winning a game by themselves, but capable of winning series’ on their own. In what could be a future playoff showdown, whichever star shines brightest with help their team start the second half of the season the right way.
DOUBTFUL — Rudy Gay (Non-COVID Related Illness)
OUT — Jared Butler (Right Ankle Sprain)
QUESTIONABLE — Reggie Bullock (right hip contusion)
QUESTIONABLE — Trey Burke (left shoulder sprain)
DOUBTFUL — Marquese Chriss (right knee soreness)
OUT — Tim Hardaway Jr. (left foot surgery)
OUT — Theo Pinson (right fifth finger fracture)
Time: 7 p.m. MST
Location: Vivint Arena / Salt Lake City, UT
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: 1280 The Zone