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NBA power rankings roundup: Where do the Utah Jazz stand at the season’s midpoint?

The Utah Jazz may have gotten disrespect from LeBron James, but the national media continues to praise Utah.

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Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles (2) holds his arms up after nailing a 3-pointer that pushed him past John Stockton as the Jazz all-time leader in 3-pointers during the Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz NBA game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 29, 2021.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

The Utah Jazz may have gotten disrespect from LeBron James last week, but the national media continues to praise Utah as it heads to the second half of the season.

It was a mixed week for the Jazz as they approached the midway point of the campaign — Utah lost three of its last four games, with the loss to Philadelphia featuring controversy and leading to postgame comments by Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, who said that the Jazz don’t get reffed as fairly as other teams. That was followed by LeBron James and Kevin Durant picking Mitchell and Gobert last in the All-Star draft.

There were some positives, however. Utah still has the best record (27-9) in the NBA at the All-Star break and should be plenty motivated for the second half of the season. Mike Conley also got news that he will be an All-Star for the first time in his career, replacing the injured Devin Booker in Atlanta and joining Mitchell, Gobert and Quin Snyder as Team LeBron won Sunday’s All-Star Game 170-150.

Here’s where national publications slot the Jazz in power rankings this week:

ESPN — No. 1

What they said about the Jazz:

There hasn’t been anything fluky about Utah’s first-half success, as the Jazz have the league’s best point differential (plus-8.8 per game) by a wide margin, although Utah lost four of its past seven games. The Jazz go into the break with a 2.5-game lead in the West and have the league’s softest schedule in terms of opponents’ winning percentage the rest of the way, putting them well on the path to the West’s top seed. The thought was that finishing in first would allow the Jazz to avoid the L.A. teams until the conference finals, but — surprise — it’s the Suns who are in second place at the moment. — Tim MacMahon

NBA.com — No. 3

What they said about the Jazz:

After a ridiculous, 22-2 stretch, the Jazz ended the first-half schedule with a 1-3 road trip, by far their worst stretch of defense this season (118.5 points allowed per 100 possessions), even without considering that two of the opposing offenses rank 25th and 26th. The Heat did most of their damage from mid-range, but the Pelicans and Sixers beat up the Jazz inside, combining to score 110 points in the restricted area.

All three losses were close, and the Jazz have now lost their last four games that were within five points in the last five minutes. With Donovan Mitchell shooting 2-for-19, they’ve scored just 31 points on 36 clutch possessions over those four games.

The Jazz have the easiest remaining schedule in regard to opponent strength, in part because they can’t play themselves and in part because they have eight games remaining against the Rockets, Wolves and Kings. — John Schuhmann

Sports Illustrated — No. 1

What they said about the Jazz:

Royce O’Neale’s scoring impact remains relatively muted, yet he remains an indispensable piece in Utah’s rotation. O’Neale is a quality spot-up shooter at 41.4% from three on solid volume, and more importantly, he’s often tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best wing player. Expect to see O’Neale shadowing the likes of Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James in the postseason. If he holds his own, we could very well see Utah advance to its first Finals of the 21st century. — Michael Shapiro

CBS Sports — No. 1

What they said about the Jazz:

What more can we say about the Jazz? They thoroughly dominated the first half on both ends of the floor, and have drawn comparisons to the 2014 Spurs because of their ball movement, spacing and unselfishness. They entered the break on a two-game losing streak, but there’s no reason to believe that Utah can’t finish the season at the top of the West if it stays healthy. The Jazz were undoubtedly the NBA’s best team for the first half of the season. — Colin Ward-Henninger

NBC Sports — No. 1

What they said about the Jazz:

Utah is back on top of the power rankings and has earned the right to be mentioned among the title contenders. However, the loss to Miami shows the challenge ahead of them in the second round of the playoffs and beyond: Late in the game, Jimmy Butler — a strong wing player who loves the midrange — got to his spots and hit shots. Utah’s defensive game plan is to force teams to take midrange jumpers, but what happens against a team that has players who thrive in that range? The Clippers and Lakers stars are very comfortable in the midrange. — Kurt Helin