This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
Respect the opponent. Take it one game at a time. Never worry about other teams around you in the standings.
Blah, blah, blah.
In the NBA, the cliche is often the safest and most prudent route to take, especially over an 82 game schedule that can feature more twists and turns than a John Grisham novel. At the same time, the players and the coaches are human. Some games are bigger than others. Some road trips hold more meaning. Sometimes the jostling in the standings requires a bit more scrutiny.
The Utah Jazz are a prime example of this. On Monday night, they begin a five game road trip that begins with the Brooklyn Nets, a simple enough task on paper. But the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Memphis Grizzlies all show up on the trip as well, which will be three "measuring stick" types of games.
Furthermore, the Jazz, by virtue of Saturday night's win over the Phoenix Suns, are now in a four-way tie for the fourth spot in the Western Conference alongside the Grizzlies, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Oklahoma City Thunder. So, while the Jazz could say this is just another road trip, it clearly isn't. And to their credit, they acknowledge this.
"It's hard not to pay attention on some level," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "You hear things about a team that is hot, or a team that's struggling, and it's usually not relevant until you play somebody. Sometimes, a team can get hot after they play you. Look at Memphis. They were struggling, and then they beat us (in November), and they beat the Clippers and suddenly they're looked at as the hottest team in the league."
The Jazz proved that much can change in a week as well. Coming off a three game losing streak that culminated with a loss to Toronto a few days before Christmas, the Jazz did a 180 this week and won three consecutive games catapulting them from the seventh spot in the west to fourth.
Now, with the first two months of the season out of the way, the fun begins. The separation has begun in the west, and the Jazz are officially in position to fight for homecourt advantage in the first round of the postseason.
To do that, however, they know that playing good basketball over the final three months and change will be vital. That's where the upcoming road trip kicks in. Getting off to a good start could be essential. The schedule for the Jazz in January isn't friendly. So Utah either negotiates the landmines, or it runs the risk of falling behind.
"It's still early, but we think things are going to go back and forth," Jazz shooting guard Rodney Hood said. "This trip, it's important to us. It's a tough trip, with so many good teams and so many games in just a few days. It presents a real challenge. But, we've been there before, so we just have to see what happens."
Two things could have a real effect on Utah's performance this coming week. Starting point guard George Hill in the win over the Suns took a nasty elbow from Phoenix center Alex Len, an elbow that knocked his tooth through his mouth and netted him 18 stitches.
More importantly, it landed him in concussion protocol, as he exhibited symptoms during a full evaluation. He's out, until he can negotiate his way through the NBA's mandatory concussion protocol.
If Hill misses some or all of the road trip, that places a strain on the Jazz, who will see a few very good point guards during the week.
On the flip side, the Jazz could get Alec Burks back at some point of the trip, who's been out a year since injuring his leg against the Clippers. Burks will travel with the team. He's been practicing full speed, and is said to be very close to making his season debut.
Burks returning helps the Jazz with scoring punch off the bench. Burks is also one of the most athletic guys on the team, and helps Utah in transition.
"This is an important trip for us," Jazz forward Trey Lyles said. "We want to start the new year off right. We're playing some of the best teams in the league on this trip. So we're taking it very seriously."
Utah Jazz at Brooklyn Nets
When - Monday, 5:30 p.m. MST
Where - The Barclays Center, Brooklyn
TV - ROOT Sports
Radio - 1280 AM; 97.5 FM
Records - Jazz 21-13; Brooklyn 8-24
Last Meeting - Brooklyn 98-96 (February 27th, 2016)
About the Jazz - Shooting guard Alec Burks is traveling with the team, and could make his season debut on the road trip. … This is Utah's second trip out east that features five games in seven nights. They went 4-1 on the previous trip. … The Jazz could be without point guard George Hill, who is in the NBA's concussion protocol. … Utah has won three consecutive games
About the Nets - Former Jazz forward Trevor Booker is a key player for the Nets. … Brooklyn center Justin Hamilton was a starter for the 2008 Lone Peak High team that won the Class 5A state championship. … Brooklyn is tied with the Philadelphia 76ers for the worst record in the Eastern Conference. … The Nets are 2-8 in their last 10 games
• The Jazz enter the trip on a three game winning streak
• Utah will play five games in seven nights
• The Jazz are in the fourth spot in the Western Conference