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Utah Jazz making a bad habit of blowing big leads

Phoenix Suns forward Jared Dudley (3) and Utah Jazz guard Shelvin Mack (8) reach for a loose ball during NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016.
Phoenix Suns forward Jared Dudley (3) and Utah Jazz guard Shelvin Mack (8) reach for a loose ball during NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz have won three games in a row which is obviously a good thing.

In those three wins, however, the Jazz have flirted with turning blowout leads into what could’ve been demoralizing and embarrassing losses, which isn’t such a good thing.

They gave away all of their 23-point lead against the Suns before closing it out in the final three minutes. They also botched all but five points of a 23-point lead at home against Denver on Saturday. On Monday, Utah found itself grasping to a tenuous four-point lead after leading the Lakers by 19.

While the Jazz would certainly settle for that outcome on Thursday night when they host the Golden State Warriors, it isn’t a formula for success they want to continue experimenting with.

“I think we just have to not relax,” Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward said when asked about the team’s trend of taking and giving up big leads.

“We have to try to still guard. We have to do the same things we did to get us the lead. Mostly, that’s usually guarding defensively.”

While not an excuse, it didn’t help that the Jazz were playing for the second night in a row and for the sixth time in nine days.

Throw in the unfortunate and large number of injuries the team has endured — they had only five healthy players on the bench for part of Tuesday’s game — and it’s somewhat understandable why they ran out of steam.

“I think we’re a tired team right now. I think we’re a tired team,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder admitted after Monday’s 112-105 win over Phoenix. “That grind has shown on the defensive end, too.”

Fatigue isn’t the only reason why these meltdowns keep happening, of course.

“I think it is a combination of a couple of things,” Snyder said. “One, it is the NBA. It is a make-or-miss league. A lot of times you will have a stretch where you shoot well or play well and the other teams will have a similar stretch and instead of being back and forth every possession, there are runs.”

So far in this streak, the Jazz have been able to snap out of it in time to beat sub-.500 squads.

They have a much tougher challenge Thursday against a Warriors team that added Kevin Durant to its already loaded roster this offseason.

Utah, on the other hand, has an injury-ravaged lineup right now. Four key players — George Hill (toe), Rodney Hood (hamstring), Derrick Favors (knee) and Alec Burks (ankle) — will miss the Warriors showdown.

In spite of the injuries and those shortcomings, however, the 14-9 Jazz are five games above .500 for the first time since April 15, 2013.

Utah also is fourth in the league in net rating (+6.7 points per 100 possessions) and tied for sixth in both offensive rating (108.2 points/100) and defensive rating (101.5/100).

Now if they could just begin to minimize the damaging runs other teams seem to be taking on them on a regular basis.

“Your ability to handle those runs, that’s the most important thing,” Snyder said. “… I don’t think we have always done as good a job of managing those runs on the defensive end. If you get a couple of stops during that period, it really mitigates the run.

"Really," he added, "it is human nature when you have some separation, sometimes it is easier to let down. It is something that (we) really continue to figure out how to overcome. I don’t think we are there, but we did find a way (Tuesday).”

And Monday.

And Saturday.

Thursday will be tougher — even if the Warriors rest some key guys, as Golden State coach Steve Kerr said he might do.