Suddenly, the Utah Jazz have a chance again.
It's a slim chance, but maybe it will be enough to get them cranked up again, to cause them to play as they played during their hot streaks.Two straight losses by the first-place Spurs puts the Jazz a mere two games behind. If Utah plans to close that gap, it will happen in the next six days. In that stretch, the Jazz play, in order, Golden State (Thursday) and the Clippers (Saturday), both at home, and Minnesota (Tuesday), on the road.
That's three lottery teams - in fact, three of the five worst teams in the NBA, if records are to be believed.
The Spurs, on the other hand, play Denver twice, in a home-and-home set, and Sacramento once, over the same stretch. And the Nuggets and Kings should be motivated - they're in a neck-and-neck race for the eighth playoff spot.
Thursday's Jazz opponent, Golden State, is easily the biggest disappointment of the season. Generally picked to finish third in the Pacific Division, the Warriors crumbled after the trade of Chris Webber to Washington for Tom Gugliotta. Since then, coach Don Nelson quit in disgust, Gugliotta became probably the only player ever to say he was happy to be traded to Minnesota (for rookie Donyell Marshall), and the team's remaining two stars - guards Tim Hardaway and Latrell Sprewell - have feuded.
Hardaway recently criticized teammates for "quitting on" Nelson, prompting Sprewell to lash out at Hardaway as a "Nellie brown-noser."
Before you get too excited, though, figuring this is a sure win for the Jazz, take note of a couple facts: Sprewell made his nasty remarks before going out and scoring 30 points in a victory over a hot Dallas team; and the Warriors - like the Timberwolves and Clippers - have beaten Utah this season.
If the Jazz start looking at this as an easy stretch, they could be in serious trouble.
After Tuesday's win over the Lakers, the Jazz generally agreed that they'd played decently but not as well as they can.
"Right now we're kind of up and down, but I can see where we're getting it back," said Antoine Carr. "I'm starting to see that desire again."
"We're not where we should be, but we're not too far off," said Karl Malone.
GAME NOTES: Tonight's game tips off at 6 p.m., to accommodate TBS . . . Tom Chambers needs 14 points to reach 20,000 for his career.