State of the Utah Jazz: things looking up after rocky start

Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Utah Jazz have won seven of their last eight games, including an impressive victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Following a couple close victories and a close loss back in November, I was feeling that the Utah Jazz were about to turn the corner and post a big winning streak. It was 17 games into the season, and the Jazz had already won exciting victories over the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks on their home floor.

Donovan Mitchell had looked like a superstar at the time, and the Jazz were finding ways to win in the clutch after being plagued by close fourth quarters in the past. Their defense had kept up with the best of the league despite the loss of Derrick Favors and Jae Crowder, and they had posted an 11-6 record despite having two key players going through a major shooting slump.

I was convinced that the Jazz would be able to tread water on their longest road trip of the season, and take advantage of an easy schedule in December to surge through the standings.

Instead, their defense fell flat on that road trip and hasn’t been higher than eighth ever since. They got blown out on their home floor twice in the same week, and if it wasn’t for the Memphis Grizzlies the Jazz would have lost six games in a row.

They followed that up with a five game winning streak, but as my colleague Jared Woodcox explained, the win streak felt meaningless. It’s easy to see why the national media outlets utterly refused to move the Jazz up in their power rankings.

However, this week things are different for the Utah Jazz. After a statement win over the Los Angeles Clippers followed by some slippage from the top five teams in the Western Conference, the Jazz have finally cracked the top 10 in a few power rankings.

ESPN: 7th, 7th, 6th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 12th, 12th, 13th, 12th, 11th

CBS Sports: 6th, 9th, 13th, 7th, 8th, 8th, 12th, 13th, 12th, 12th, 8th 7th, 7th, 11th, 7th, 8th, 10th, 12th, 13th, 12th, 13th, 8th

Bleacher Report: 5th, 7th, 7th, 7th, 9th, 8th, 12th, 13th, 12th, 12th, 11th

Sports Illustrated: 6th, 9th, 13th, 8th, 8th, 11th, 11th, 12th, 12th, – , 11th

Hoops Habit: 6th, 9th, 12th, 10th, 7th, 9th, 12th, 12th, 12th, 12th, 11th

It took a few weeks of hard work, but the Utah Jazz have a chance to end the year tied for fifth place in the Western Conference. That could very well change to fourth or even third place in the next few weeks if they take advantage of their upcoming schedule.

How did they earn back the right to be top 10? It’s been through a new found identity over the past few months. The Utah Jazz can shoot the lights out as evidenced by their number one ranking in three point percentage, but also rely on clutch defense to get a stop when it really matters. Take the last two games for examples:

The Portland Trail-Blazers were stopped in their tracks by Rudy Gobert with their late rally. The Stifle Tower forced an air ball from Carmelo Anthony and made the game-saving block on Damian Lillard‘s reverse layup attempt.

On Saturday night they only allowed the Clippers to score 19 points in the fourth quarter thanks to some staunch defense played on Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.

So although the Jazz have had some high scoring games and don’t have a top five defensive efficiency, they can get a stop when they absolutely have to. According to, the Jazz are the second best team at defending in the clutch this season. That is up from last year’s team which only posted the 16th best defense in the clutch.

These kinds of numbers give me great hope for when the playoffs come around that the Jazz can squeak out close victories over anybody in the league.

Notable Quotes

Here is the reasoning the writers had behind the Jazz’s recent bump in the power rankings:

via Tim MacMahon of

"“Beating the Clippers on the road Saturday night gave the Jazz a statement-type win during their active 7-1 run. Mike Conley played only 19 minutes during that stretch because of his nagging hamstring strain, pushing Donovan Mitchell to point guard, where he has thrived…”"

via John Schumann of

"“Donovan Mitchell has averaged 27 points on 52% shooting over the eight games and has seemingly come up with a flurry of buckets whenever the Jazz have needed one. But the biggest key to their success might be the resurrection of Joe Ingles, who has shot 55% from 3-point range (the best mark among 119 players with at least 50 attempts) in December. The Jazz starting lineup (the one without Mike Conley) has outscored its opponents by amazing 39.1 points per 100 possessions in 139 minutes over the last seven games.”"

Keys to a successful week

The Utah Jazz will play the Detroit Pistons tonight at Vivint Smart Home Arena, then get a three day break before playing the Chicago Bulls in the windy city. Both of these teams are below .500 outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. In the case of the Detroit Pistons, their injury report is piling up and it would be a major letdown if the Jazz lost tonight.

Then the Jazz will fly to Orlando for a rematch with the Magic on Saturday night. The Magic might consider this a revenge game since the Jazz got their hopes up in the fourth quarter only to crush them in the heart breaker of a loss. Given that Orlando wants to tighten their grip on the eight playoff seed, this could be a tough game for the Jazz.

Next. Derrick Favors is helping Pelicans turn the corner. dark

Winning two of these games is what I would call the minimum expectation of this week, and I would hope the Jazz can win all three of them by a good margin. They will be getting enough rest and time to immerse Jordan Clarkson in the playbook, so there is a good chance the Jazz can be unanimously placed in the top 10 for next week’s power rankings.