We can’t afford to relax now that we’re back in the picture. We’ve got to make sure we continue to take care of business. We’re getting ready to go on the road and we’ve got to get some road wins. – Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin
ATLANTA — On Friday night, Utah Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin reminded reporters that the NBA season is one of peaks and valleys.
A month ago, the Jazz were in the lowest of low valleys — three games below .500, struggling to find consistency, failing to stop opponents, falling apart on the road and losing just about every game for a while, including 11 losses in 14 outings during one particularly ugly stretch.
A month later, and, my oh my how the view has changed from the ridge they've reached en route to the peak.
Six straight victories — and nine W's in their past 12 games — has turned the Jazz's season around and put them in playoff territory.
Go ahead. Look at the standings. Pinch yourself.
The Jazz really are in postseason position with only a month remaining in the season.
Sure beats the alternative. Like, say, last year at this time, when the team was in free-fall mode, becoming the first team in NBA history to not make the playoffs when posting as good of a first half (27-13) as they did.
Those memories are distant now.
"It's a good feeling going in the right direction this time," Jazz point guard Devin Harris said.
Then again, the Jazz had a similar feeling just a couple of months ago. After getting blown out in three of their first four games this season, they won five straight and then rolled to a 9-4 record.
Because of what they've gone through — devastating defeats, learning curves for young players, adjustments for veterans, etc. — the Jazz are feeling more confident now than at the beginning of the season.
"The guys stayed together. We stayed the course," Corbin said. "The NBA season is such a long season. It has some peaks and valleys, but you've got to make sure you stay focused on the things that you need to get better at and we've done that, and as a result we're back in the race now."
This next stretch of games could determine whether they keep surging up the standings — currently No. 6 in the West — or whether they fall back in with the on-the-bubble bunch.
Utah begins a three-game road trip today against the Hawks, with games Monday in New Jersey and Wednesday at Boston. The Jazz have a Friday rematch against the Kings at home before journeying out West for games against the Clippers and Blazers.
That's six games in nine days, including five on the road for those who lost count.
And though the Jazz are playing much better of late and have won two straight on the road, away games have been their downfall this season. Utah sports a nice 26-22 overall record despite a lousy 7-16 mark outside of the Beehive State.
"We can't afford to relax now that we're back in the picture. We've got to make sure we continue to take care of business," Corbin said. "We're getting ready to go on the road and we've got to get some road wins."
Harris believes this Eastern jaunt will really show where the Jazz are. They went 2-3 on their last extended road trip.
"Obviously we're moving in the right direction," Harris said. "We were at this point early in the season. It will show if we've learned our lesson and come together. It will be a good test for us."
The good thing, according to second-year forward Gordon Hayward, is that the Jazz are as confident as they've been all season. That confidence is showing up on the defensive end where teammates trust and believe in each other, he said. And it also is showing up on the offensive end, where Utah has been putting up a lot points of late.
"We're going to need to bring this momentum on this road trip," Hayward said following Friday's 121-102 blowout of Denver. "It will be a tough road trip for us, so we've got to be prepared."
The stakes are higher now that the Jazz have scraped and clawed back into the thick of things and the season is approaching the stretch run.
"This is what we talked about. This is what we wanted. We've been working our way back in it," Corbin said. "There was a stretch we wasn't playing as well, but we're back and it's going to be a dogfight the rest of the way."
Jazz center Al Jefferson pointed out how the team can keep the good times rolling.
"There aren't any superstars on this team, so we're going to have to play together every night, night in and night out, for us to try and have some success," Big Al said. "We're doing it, for the most part, on the road now, but we've just got to keep the hammer down."