Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has enjoyed watching the battle for the West’s top seed this season.
Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams is one of Popovich’s former assists. Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder was a regular in San Antonio while he coached the team’s D-League affiliate in Austin.
“It’s great,” Popovich said early Monday evening. “Two people I’ve known a long time. Good friends. What could be better than being happy about their success?”
A few hours later, Snyder and the Jazz were back atop the Western Conference standings thanks to a 110-99 victory over San Antonio at Vivint Arena. The win improved the Jazz to 47-18 on the season, giving them a half-game lead over the Suns for now.
All-Star center Rudy Gobert led the way for the Jazz, finishing with 24 points, 15 rebounds, three blocks, two steals and an assist. Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic had 25 points — 17 of them in the first half — to lead all scorers at Vivint Arena.
The Jazz were once again without All-Stars Donovan Mitchell (ankle) and Mike Conley (hamstring), but still had plenty of firepower on Monday night. The team went on a 22-6 run over the final 6 minutes of the first half, building up a 19-point lead that would keep the Spurs at arm’s length the rest of the night.
The Jazz set the tone early with their defensive intensity and sustained the kind of effort Gobert hopes to see from now until the postseason begins.
“Every single game until the end of the season, whoever is on the floor, we have to make sure we play Jazz basketball and that will carry over into the playoffs,” Gobert said.
After losing in Phoenix last weekend, the Jazz’s path to the No. 1 seed — and homecourt advantage throughout the postseason — became more difficult but not impossible. The Suns (who were idle Monday) play five of their final eight contests against teams with .500-or-better records. The Jazz will only see three winning records in their final seven games.
“The West is so good and has been so good, there is always a clump of teams and seeding can change within a period of a couple of games,” Snyder said. “You just have to focus on what you can do.”
Both ESPN and FiveThirtyEight still project Utah to win the West by one game. Those are just projections, though, and the Jazz know the challenges that lie ahead of them regardless.
“We don’t put too much pressure on it,” center Derrick Favors said on Monday. “It would be nice. But once you reach the playoffs, none of that other stuff matters. You get homecourt advantage. Other than that, everybody starts off 0-0 and you have to beat a team four times.”
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) May 4, 2021
The Jazz and Spurs will do it all again Wednesday night at Vivint Arena. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
This is the last two-game miniseries of the season for the Jazz, a scheduling wrinkle that could come in handy as the playoffs begin.
“It has prepared us in a way,” said center Derrick Favors. “It’s hard enough to beat a team twice when you play them in a three or four day span. But it also helps us because you scout them and see what they do. It force you to improve and come up with different schemes and be creative.