Calls from some fans on Twitter for the Utah Jazz to tank the rest of the season were coming in strong by Jan. 15 as the team lost its fifth of six games during the month.
A December in which the Jazz went 5-10 was, most realized at the outset, going to be tough facing a bunch of the NBA’s best teams, but the start of the 2018 calendar year was harder to swallow. Not only had Utah gone 1-5 during the first half of the month to drop to 17-26, but it looked particularly listless in losses to the Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers.
There was the understanding, however, that Rudy Gobert was still out for the second big stretch of the season with a knee injury, and there were signs that he’d be returning to the lineup soon. Even when the Frenchman did come back January 19, though, the Jazz still lost two of their next four games and looked especially bad Jan. 22 against the lowly Atlanta Hawks.
All the while, reports started to circulate that Utah is looking to trade Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood, while it stands to reason that a good chunk of the roster could be had for the right price in advance of the Feb. 8 deadline to make deals.
But suddenly the Jazz have regained some life over the past two games away from home. First, they ground out a 98-95 overtime victory over the Detroit Pistons last Wednesday and then played incredibly well in a 97-93 win against the Toronto Raptors last Friday.
"It’s significant to me the fact that our team bounced back,” head coach Quin Snyder said at practice Monday. “We competed. That was our goal against Detroit. At Toronto we had a chance to execute a little better and we want to build on that.”
While Snyder pointed to offensive success, Utah defended better than it had in a long while, and it showed directly on the scoreboard, as it was the first time all season the Jazz have held consecutive opponents under 100 points.
"Defensively the last couple of games we were really good,” wing Joe Ingles said Monday. “We feel pretty good defensively where we’re at and getting better.”
Individually, Gobert looked back to his regular self, averaging 16.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, three blocks and two assists per contest. Additionally, Ricky Rubio played incredibly well on both ends of the floor, averaging 12.5 points, eight rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.5 steals. It’s a small sample size, to be sure, but it certainly gave hope that the pair can finish the season strong.
Now 21-28 and 10th in the Western Conference, Utah returns home for Tuesday night’s game against the mighty Golden State Warriors to finish out January feeling better but still with questions about the future.
Those questions may have been complicated over the last few days as New Orleans and Oklahoma City lost DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Roberson, respectively, for the season because of injury, and the Clippers traded star forward Blake Griffin to the Pistons.
Could the Jazz now be in position to make a run at the No. 8 seed in the West even though they’re five games back?
While uncertainty looms, the Jazz will have the task Tuesday of facing a Warriors team with a league-best 40-10 record and a team that has won 12 of its last 14 games. The contest will mark both a first and a last for Utah, as it will don its Southern Utah-inspired multicolored “City” jerseys and play on a redesigned court for the first time in what will be its final home game before the trade deadline.
“I’ve said the whole time with this group (the goal) is to keep getting better and it’s never a straight line,” Snyder said. “It never goes the way you think it’s going to go, and how you deal with that is important and tomorrow night’s going to give us another opportunity to have adversity inflicted on us.”