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Kragthorpe: Jazz show playoff-level toughness in beating Wizards

Published March 31, 2017 11:08 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In its own way, the Jazz's struggle to score for long stretches of Friday's game became a healthy development.

Judging by everything that went into the Jazz's 95-88 win over Washington at Vivint Smart Home Arena, there's hope for this team in a first-round playoff series. This was a wonderfully imperfect performance, as the Jazz delivered just the kind of effort it will take to beat the Los Angeles Clippers or anybody else in the postseason.

As coach Quin Snyder said afterward, there will be moments in the playoffs "when everything's not perfect, when you have to grind," and that's exactly what the Jazz experienced Friday. They came through with defensive stops and clutch plays.

Maybe they should have saved some of this stuff for mid-April. Or maybe these guys finally are rediscovering the home-court aura that the franchise enjoyed a decade or so ago, just in time.

This was a productive week, that's for sure. A team that looked lost in last Saturday's loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles recovered with home wins over New Orleans and Washington, with a road rout of Sacramento in between.

The Jazz (47-29) still face a major battle to hold onto the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference and earn home-court advantage in the playoffs, considering the Clippers (46-31) own the tiebreaker and have a more favorable schedule. Yet the Jazz showed Friday that they're good enough to finish this race and make a stand in playoff games in this building.

Toughness is displayed in different ways, and the way the Jazz fought through the difficult times against the Wizards was encouraging. Gordon Hayward responded by scoring 10 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter. Shelvin Mack and Dante Exum outscored Wizards star John Wall 25-16, which nobody could have seen coming. And with the help of a critical steal by Joe Ingles, Mack scored on consecutive drives with the outcome in doubt.

The Jazz needed a poised, strong finish to overcome the Wizards, and they produced it. Wall blamed the officiating, not giving the Jazz any credit, but even that's a good sign. Maybe the Jazz have reached the stage where they'll get some breaks against established players and top-tier opponents.

Before the game, Snyder good-naturedly played along with the suggestion that having the same personnel available (and missing) for two contests in a row qualified as continuity around here. Imagine the medical likelihood that the Jazz could have two point guards, George Hill and Raul Neto, sidelined by the same injury: a right groin strain. Derrick Favors also remained out.

"You have to adapt … continue to adjust to who we have," Snyder said. "I don't use many initials when I write up plays. It's usually [position] numbers."

Remember the old days in October and November, when the Jazz usually were missing only one starter?

Through 76 games this season, the Jazz's first-choice starting lineup — Hill, Rodney Hood, Favors, Hayward and Rudy Gobert — has been available only 13 times. One of those precious moments came Feb. 26 at Washington, where those starters scored all but 15 points in a 102-92 defeat of the Wizards. The Jazz are 11-2 with that starting five, so it is natural to wonder what this team may have done with any kids of reasonable health.

As the calendar turns to April, the question becomes whether the Jazz will be able to produce anything resembling their best stuff in their first playoff appearance in five seasons.

"Who knows, we may not be healthy for the playoffs," Snyder said. "I'm not sure what 'healthy' means. But we're going to play."

The Jazz's effort against Washington made that perfectly clear, on an imperfect night.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com Twitter: @tribkurt






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