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Brad Rock: No, Utah Jazz can't afford to take a night off

Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale (23) leaps into the air as they Jazz pull away from the Denver Nuggets late in the fourth quarter at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 9, 2019.
Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale (23) leaps into the air as they Jazz pull away from the Denver Nuggets late in the fourth quarter at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 9, 2019.
Steve Griffin

SALT LAKE CITY — Momentum isn’t everything, if you ask Jazz coach Quin Snyder.

But it’s something the Jazz can’t ignore. So they didn’t.

They might not be hosting the early games of the playoffs, this weekend. But they won’t be totally fried, even if they lose to the Clippers in Wednesday’s season finale. After beating Denver 118-108, they proved to be good enough to scare people, but not good enough to go through the motions.

Disinterest wasn’t a problem Tuesday. The win circumvented any late-season losing streak. Their slump ended at one. Utah has won 13 of its last 16 games. Some teams with a certain All-Star-laden lineup might have the luxury of putting their alarm on snooze. Not the Jazz. They sleep in their track shoes.

Against Denver, they never let up, though they did lose a double-digit lead in the first half. But they restored it by the finish. The season finale is in Los Angeles. There was a slight chance the Jazz could have relinquished the No. 5 playoff seeding to Oklahoma City until Tuesday. But a loss by Houston and a win by the Blazers kept the Jazz in the dark about their playoff opponent.

If the Jazz were attempting to rest up for the playoffs, nobody told Donovan Mitchell. He tied a career-high 46 points. He didn’t torch just one player. He torched Will Barton, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, Jamal Murray and assorted other Nuggets. When it came to Denver getting embarrassed, it was a team effort.

Though the Jazz had a double-digit lead in the first half, that was down to one by halftime. Utah’s big downfall: 10 turnovers.

That the Jazz would beat the Nuggets was a testament to their versatility. Derrick Favors came off the bench after a recent injury absence, but Dante Exum, Kyle Korver, Raul Neto and Ricky Rubio were sidelined. The Jazz weren’t smooth early, but they were effective. Most important, it wasn’t a one-man show. Rudy Gobert dunked his way to 20 points and Favors had 16. That’s vital in the postseason, when everyone’s best players usually shine.

“We have another season coming up,” said the Jazz’s Jae Crowder.

Long before the Jazz’s game against Denver, they had already nailed down a playoff spot for the third straight year.

It never hurts to get your shopping done early.

On one hand, Tuesday’s outcome didn’t decide the final ledger. The Jazz already knew the playoffs would happen. It’s now a matter of tying a bow on the regular season and discovering their playoff opponent. With one game remaining, the Jazz are two games better than a year ago but one win behind their 2016-17 mark.

Talk about consistency. Like Quaker Oats, these don’t vary much.

While playoff-bound teams sometimes taper for the postseason, it’s a complicated balance. What if, like the Jazz, you’re still playing for positioning? Or for momentum? Or just bagging some shut-eye? Denver did that earlier this week by resting Jokic, Millsap and Murray in their Sunday game. On Tuesday everyone was at attention. The Jazz got by without their injured players.

Despite winning 12 of 13 games before losing Sunday to the Lakers, momentum is everything for the Jazz. Golden State might be able to hit the “on” switch whenever needed, but Snyder will admit his team isn’t good enough for that.

“There’s a lot different ways to finish strong,” he said.

“Not that you discount wins and losses, but it’s just different for every team and every group.”

Tuesday the Jazz showed they still have some mojo, even against good teams. They are a decent 12-12 against playoff-bound teams. But since March 11 they have played exactly two playoff opponents.

Whether they’re actually better than last year, or the year before remains to be seen in the playoffs. In 2016-17 they went 51-31, last year 48-34. Now they’re 50-31. Both years they advanced to the second round of the playoffs and got crushed in the second round.

They finished strong both of those years, too.

Mitchell is undaunted.

“We have a lot left in us,” he said.