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Utah Jazz mindful of last trip to the Big Easy

NEW ORLEANS — Forget voodoo. The Utah Jazz are experiencing some deja vu in the Bayou.

Gordon Hayward is coming off a big game, arguably his best of the season.

The Jazz are coming off a big road win, one of their best of the season.

And their opponent is New Orleans, supposedly one of the easier opponents of the season.

Sound familiar?

Unless you've wiped it out of your memory because of mental anguish, it should. The Jazz were in a remarkably similar situation the last time they came to the Big Easy in February.

Only Hayward had scored 23 in the previous game, not 29, and the Jazz had beaten Memphis, not Houston.

"The thing is, there's no time to celebrate," Hayward said after leading Utah past the Rockets on Wednesday. "Because I remember we had a good road win in Memphis and went down in New Orleans and blew that, so we need to be focused."

That embarrassing 86-80 setback, which began a 1-6 tailspin, might actually play in the Jazz's favor.

"I think we went in thinking that team was going to lay down," Jazz center Al Jefferson said. "Now we know for a fact we can't think like that. Yeah, I think we are a different team than we was."

They certainly are a smaller team.

Five players are out for sure, which was the case Wednesday when the Jazz beat Houston 103-91. And they could be without Paul Millsap, who is day-to-day with a sprained right wrist.

Derrick Favors will start if Millsap can't go. And if he can't play, the Jazz will be down to nine players, including recent D-League call-up Blake Ahearn.

"We're in a spot now where we just have to patch spots and move things around and give ourselves a chance," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said, "because we're in this playoff race. We'll just keep doing it."

Corbin brought up the Jazz's previous no-show in New Orleans with his squad, which fell behind by 20 points to the four-win and short-handed Hornets before reserves rallied for a smaller margin of defeat.

The second-year coach also reminded the team that New Orleans is actually playing good basketball, having won three of five games, including a win over Denver (and a two-point loss to the Lakers).

"We don't want to harp on it, but we talked about it," Corbin said. "Knowing that if we don't come out ready to play, those guys are very (capable). They're playing better now. They're capable of getting hot and making a lot of shots. We have to be ready. We can't afford to show up and think we can win against anybody. We have to play a certain way."

It'd help their cause if they come out with the defensive aggressiveness they had in holding Houston to 35.6 percent shooting and 91 points. Part of the credit for the defensive showing goes to new starter DeMarre Carroll, who's teamed with Hayward to make Utah's wing positions tough to score on.

That type of effort and energy is contagious and likely needed for the Jazz to get into the playoffs.

"If we bring that same type of intensity," Jazz point guard Devin Harris said, "we're going to give ourselves a chance."

Added Jefferson: "(Wednesday) night, we just decided that's what we're going to do — we were going to step up and play great D. We've just got to come with that same mind focus (tonight), ready to win this game."

If Millsap is available, the Jazz could continue to throw the wrinkle of playing him at small forward alongside Jefferson and Favors. That big lineup has worked quite well the few times Corbin has used it, with small forwards Josh Howard and C.J. Miles out.

Millsap has been able to post up opposing small forwards and use his mid-range game while also playing well defensively in the three spot. Combined with Big Al's offensive threat and Favors' defensive presence, it's a potent threesome.

"It gives us a great advantage," Corbin said, "when we can impose our will on teams and make them make an adjustment to us."

The way his team has been playing — even as depleted as its bench has become — Corbin is optimistic that opponents will be doing that for more than just seven more games.

"Yeah, I think we're a capable team of making the playoffs," Corbin said. "And once we get there, we'll see what happens. We're here now. We want to seize this moment."

Considering they're 11/2 games out of a playoff spot — and two losses behind Denver and Houston — the Jazz can't afford any more lousy losses in Louisiana.

"We need each and every game," Hayward said. "There's seven games left. We need seven wins. … We all realize the importance."


Twitter: DJJazzyJody