SALT LAKE CITY — In the midst of the Utah Jazz’s magical run during the 2017-18 season, Coach Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors made a trip to Vivint Arena to witness it firsthand.
Ahead of Golden State’s 40-point loss to Utah on April 10, Kerr called the Jazz “one of the best stories of the year in the NBA.”
Despite a 19-28 start, the Jazz won 29 of their last 35 games to earn a fifth-seed in the Western Conference — ultimately eliminating the Oklahoma City Thunder in the opening round.
Although many expected the Jazz to come out of the gate much stronger this year with the same pieces intact — including Warriors star Steph Curry — both Kerr and teammate Kevin Durant are confident that Utah will turn it around.
The Jazz enter Wednesday’s game versus Golden State with a 14-17 record but have played the league’s toughest schedule, with 20 of their first 31 games on the road.
“I wouldn’t say surprised because I wasn’t expecting them to go off and be a No. 1 seed,” Durant said during Wednesday’s shootaround. “There’s still a progression they have to have, with well their best player which is Donovan (Mitchell), and I think he’s still getting better every single day.
“I’m expecting a huge jump in the win column for them, but I think they’re still playing good basketball regardless of wins and losses and I think obviously that comes down to playoff seeding, you want to win games but to me, I think they’re playing good ball.”
Warriors star Steph Curry says he’s been surprised by the Jazz’s 14-17 start, but called the Western Conference “just weird all the way around” this season. Curry anticipates the Jazz being among the top-8 by playoff time. “We just don’t want that to start tonight,” Curry said. pic.twitter.com/F6f1TpNTib— Eric Woodyard (@E_Woodyard) December 19, 2018
Kerr sided with Durant that the Jazz aren’t playing terrible despite losing four of their last five games, and currently holding the next to last spot in the Western Conference standings.
“I’m still really impressed with them,” Kerr said of Utah. “They’re still a tough team to beat. They defend, they move the ball, they execute but the West is just so deep this year, everybody’s just beating each other so I think just looking at them on tape, they look good, but I think a lot of other teams in the West have gotten better and it’s harder to get wins this year.”
Curry admitted that was surprised by the Jazz’s slow start considering how well they concluded last year. The two-time MVP also labeled the Western Conference “just weird all the way around” this season, with teams such as the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and Sacramento Kings having early success as the Jazz are struggling to find their identity.
“That happens from time to time when you’re trying to make that jump,” Curry said.
Curry anticipates the Jazz being among the top-8 by playoff time, though. In Golden State's first meeting with Utah, they barely escaped with a 124-123 victory behind former Jazzman Jonas Jerebko's game-winning tip-in with 0.3 remaining on Oct. 19.
“There’s still 50-something games left and plenty of time for the best eight to shine and rise to the top so you would assume that (Utah) would be one of those teams the way that they played last year and the potential they have,” Curry said. “We just don’t want that to start tonight.”