This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Oakland, Calif. • Maintaining an even keel is essential.
A lot can happen in an 82-game NBA season. The Utah Jazz know this, which is why for the most part their thoughts and answers read like one long cliché. Take it one game at a time, Jazz players say often. Always think about the opponent in front of you.
Even so, there are some weeks like this one for the Jazz that arise as true tests, accurate indicators of where a team stands in its development.
After a road win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday night, Utah travels to Oakland to face the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night. And after facing the Sacramento Kings at home on Wednesday night, the Jazz take on the Toronto Raptors Friday night. Those are three teams sure to test the Jazz in different ways, telling a lot about how far along the Jazz are in the process.
"These are big games for us," Utah small forward Gordon Hayward said. "In some ways every game is a big game for us out in the West, but this is an important week to us. We have to play well in games like these, if we want to get to where we want to be."
In accordance with Hayward's thoughts, Sunday's Jazz locker room after the Memphis win was a lively one. There have been plenty of Utah wins this season where the locker room still resembled business as usual.
But the Jazz knew the win over the Grizzlies had a bit more meaning and showed clear signs of progress. On Friday at home the Jazz struggled down the stretch against the Dallas Mavericks. When the fourth quarter slowed to a crawl, when possessions turned stagnant, the Jazz had trouble scoring. The Mavericks were able to rally all the way back to a tie, and Utah was forced to escape 103-100 on Rodney Hood's transition 3-pointer with less than a second remaining.
Utah was a completely different team in the same scenario on Sunday.
The Jazz, down 66-64 with five minutes left, scored 16 points in those five minutes, made every crucial shot, and did so with an offense that ran smoothly with the stakes of the game at their highest. They defeated Dallas by hanging on. They defeated Memphis, one of the hottest teams out West in the last month, by closing the Grizzlies out in front of their home crowd.
For Utah, the latter was quite a feat.
"We knew this game would come down to the end of the game and how we executed possessions at the end of the game," Jazz forward Boris Diaw said. "So in the fourth quarter, everyone was focusing on that. It was part of the gameplan. Coaches had been talking about it and in film, so we were ready for that."
The Jazz probably won't have George Hill and certainly won't have Alec Burks against Golden State, but they will have everyone else. That's different from the first meeting between the two teams, when Utah was without four of its usual starters in a loss to the Warriors.
So Tuesday's game for the Jazz will be a more accurate depiction on where they stand against the best team in the NBA. Golden State and Toronto present different issues for the Jazz than Memphis did. Where the Grizzlies want to bludgeon their opposition in the paint, the Warriors and the Raptors will want to spread the Jazz thin and run and shoot them off the court. Where the Grizzlies want to play at a slow pace, the Warriors and the Raptors will want a track meet.
The contrast in styles will be stark. The Jazz know this, and know they will have to adjust to the difference. At the same time, they've been waiting for this week. Utah's won 11 of its last 13 games. But out of 18 wins overall, only four of those victories are over teams with a .500 record or better.
And that makes the win over Memphis important, as well as how the Jazz perform for the remainder of the week.
"It's important because we're going against playoff teams," Utah forward Derrick Favors said. "It's a measuring stick for us. It's the chance to see what we need to work on, see what we need to do better. So it's a good challenge for us."
Anatomy of a tough week
• The Golden State Warriors (Tuesday) and Toronto Raptors (Friday) are first and second in their respective conferences.
• The Sacramento Kings come to Salt Lake on Wednesday, the second night of a back-to-back for the Jazz.
• Utah's won 14 of its 18 games against teams with sub .500 records
Utah Jazz at the Golden State Warriors
When • Tuesday, 8:30 p.m.
Where • Oracle, Oakland
TV • ROOT Sports, NBATV
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Utah 18-10; Golden State 24-4
Last Meeting • Warriors 106-99, (December 8)
About the Jazz • Utah center Rudy Gobert has averaged 15.1 points, 12.9 rebounds and 3.2 blocks in his last 13 games. … The Jazz were swept last season by Golden State. … By beating Memphis on Sunday, Utah moved into the fifth spot in the Western Conference. … The Jazz are 2-2 this season against Memphis and the Houston Rockets, two of their closest competitors in the conference standings
About the Warriors • Golden State is outscoring its opposition by 12.9 points per game, the biggest differential in the NBA. … The Warriors have won four consecutive games. Their last loss came at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies. … Kevin Durant went 11-of-13 from the field and scored 34 points in Golden State's most recent win, a 135-90 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. … Warriors center Zaza Pachulia returned from injury on Saturday night against the Blazers