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Healthy Rudy Gobert keeps Utah Jazz in postseason hunt: ‘I don’t see us not making the playoffs’

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) yells after getting called for a foul against Portland Trail Blazers in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. Portland won 100-81.
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) yells after getting called for a foul against Portland Trail Blazers in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. Portland won 100-81.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The Orlando Magic were the latest to experience The Stifle Tower.

Against Rudy Gobert and the Utah Jazz Monday, shots were being swatted and altered and guys were put in uncomfortable situations.

Utah held Orlando to its lowest point total and a season-low field goal percentage (34.1) in a 94-80 loss at Vivint Arena.

Magic coach Frank Vogel could do nothing but tip his hat to the streaking Jazz after the loss.

“Credit their defense,” Vogel said. “They are one of the best defenses in the league, and it took us out of a lot of stuff.”

Gobert is the anchor to the menacing defense.

The Jazz have now won 16 of their last 20 games since Gobert returned from his second knee injury in January, with a 97.4 defensive rating over that stretch. Also during that span, Gobert is averaging 15.0 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocks on 62.2 percent shooting with a dozen double-doubles.

“He’s been great for us for both ends and especially on defense, and our offense starts with our defense, so that’s great for us,” Jazz guard Ricky Rubio said of Gobert.

Utah has maintained a defensive efficiency of 102.1 while holding opponents to 43.5 shooting, per StatMuse, with Gobert back at full strength from the sprained PCL and bone bruise in his left knee. He took a different mental approach to returning this time.

“I just try to do what I do by getting my teammates open and getting better at finishing and making plays when I can,” Gobert explained. “I just try to make the right play, stay aggressive and defensively just do what I do. I make sure I talk to everyone and control the paint.

“I’m feeling better and better,” he added. “I’m working hard every day to improve my game, and I think it’s more of a mindset for me to be aggressive, and my teammates, I feel like, are getting better at finding me also. It’s exciting.”

Gobert’s willingness to do the dirty work like rebounding, protecting the paint and even screening is paying off immensely as the Jazz have rediscovered a flow. Prior to the All-Star break, Utah won 11 in a row, then dropped two of three after the break before winning three straight with the victory against Orlando.

Now, the Jazz will hit the road for three more games at Indiana Wednesday, at Memphis Friday then in New Orleans Sunday.

Utah (34-30) is currently in 10th place of the Western Conference standings, but has a legitimate shot to make the playoffs. The Jazz are just 1.5 games behind the Denver Nuggets for the eight spot with 18 regular season games remaining.

Gobert is confident in his squad as the team is hitting a groove at the right time to continue playing in the postseason.

“To me, I don’t see us not making the playoffs,” Gobert said. “I think we’ve been through a lot of injuries but we’ve been able to catch up and now we’re good enough to go there and make the playoffs and do something in the playoffs and not just make the playoffs.”