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The Jazz’s path to staying at the top of the NBA standings

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Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic (44) drives around Houston Rockets guard Armoni Brooks (7) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 21, 2021, in Houston.

Michael Wyke, Associated Press

This article was first published as the Jazz Insiders newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Thursday night.

The Utah Jazz are still the winningest team in the NBA with a 44-15 record on the season, and they’d like to stay there.

“You definitely can feel the playoffs getting closer,” Jordan Clarkson said.

But even with the postseason approaching, the Jazz aren’t getting ahead of themselves by thinking about who they’ll be facing in the first round. They just want to secure the top seed, that way they are guaranteed home-court advantage throughout their postseason run, no matter how long it ends up being.

“We are still fighting for the No. 1 spot so we are still far, far away from the playoffs,” Bojan Bogdanovic said. “There’s a lot of teams that they already kind of know where they’re going to end up, and they are kind of more preparing for the playoffs. But we are still fighting for something.”

So what does that fight look like? What stands in the way?

The Jazz are 1.5 games ahead of the No. 2 Suns in the Western Conference standings and three games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers. Of teams that are currently in the top 6 seeds in the West, the Jazz and Clippers have the easiest remaining schedules.

The Jazz only have three games, out of the remaining 13 games of the regular season, against teams with winning records (Suns, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers). And those three games will likely be the toughest — not only because they are against playoff-bound teams, but because of the positioning of each of the three teams.

The Suns are going to be fighting to gain the upper hand over the Jazz and get the No. 1 seed, the No. 4 Nuggets would love to get away from a first-round playoff matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers (No. 5), and the Blazers, who have one of the toughest remaining schedules, will be fighting tooth and nail to stay in the No. 6 spot to avoid the play-in tournament.

But even if the Jazz lose each of those three games and beat the other 10 teams with losing records, they should still be able to secure the top spot. That’s obviously not ideal, and you’d like to see the Jazz get some confidence wins against good teams before the playoffs start, but either way, they have a very manageable schedule from here on out.

New with the Jazz

Stat of the week

Through the last five games, Mike Conley leads the league in assists per game with 11.8. In that same stretch of games, Joe Ingles is shooting 54.1% from 3-point range on 9.0 attempts per game.

Special edition mailbag

A lot of people have been asking for an update on Udoka Azubuike lately, so here’s what we know:

On Feb. 11 in the SLC Stars’ opening game in the G League bubble, Azubuike suffered a severe right ankle sprain. There hasn’t been any other update on the injury, but the lack of updates does provide some information.

Azubuike did not have surgery, which means that while severe and probably somewhere between a grade 2 and 3 sprain, there wasn’t full tearing of ligaments. But a sprain that severe without surgical repair can take weeks or even months to recover from. When you take into account the fact that the Jazz were not expecting for Azubuike to play significant minutes for the Jazz this season, there’s absolutely no reason at all to rush his recovery.

Instead, the Jazz can err on the side of caution so that Azubuike can have a full and healthy offseason and come into next year ready for the next stages of his development.

In recent weeks Azubuike has been seen at Vivint before games, getting some light jogging in around the court. While there’s no news that he’s been cleared for any type of full basketball contact, his movement does indicate progress and that’s good news.

If you would like to have your question answered, you can send it to me at stodd@deseretnews.com with “mailbag” in the subject line, or you can send it to me via Twitter@NBASarah with the hashtag #UtahJazzMailbag.

From the archives

This week in Jazz history

On April 22, 2000, Jazz forward Karl Malone, at 36 years, 273 days old, became the oldest player in NBA history to score 50 points or more in a playoff game when he recorded 50 points in Game 1 of the first round against Seattle.

Extra points

  • Instant analysis: No. 1 Jazz beat basement-dwelling Rockets with ease (Deseret News)
  • Can Utah’s Wings Hold Their Own Against The Best Of The West? (FiveThirtyEight)
  • Letter: Thank you, Utah Jazz, for bringing us an escape from the craziness (Deseret News)

Around the league

Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young goes down with ankle injury.

Anthony Davis making his return to Lakers lineup.

Washington Wizards rookie guard Deni Avdija out for the season with fractured right ankle.

Up next

Apr. 24 | 7 p.m. | vs. Minnesota Timberwolves | AT&T Sportsnet

Apr. 26 | 6 p.m. | at Minnesota Timberwolves | AT&T Sportsnet

Apr. 28 | 8 p.m. | at Sacramento Kings | AT&T Sportsnet

Apr. 30 | 8 p.m. | at Phoenix Suns | AT&T Sportsnet

May 1 | 8 p.m. | vs. Toronto Raptors | NBATV/AT&T Sportsnet