SALT LAKE CITY – In the Utah Jazz’s 18-game winning streak in their last 20 games, a lot has been done about how their schedule has been rather easy, as only two of those wins have come against teams of more than 0.500.
Things are set to get a lot tougher over the next month or so, not to mention more important from a playoff positioning standpoint, even though the Jazz still have 38 games to play in the regular season.
Starting Saturday afternoon against the Dallas Mavericks at Vivint Arena, Utah’s next four games will be against top-eight teams in the Western Conference. Seven of their 10 games after that through Feb.26 are also against teams currently in the playoff position, including five against opponents in the Western Conference.
Only second in the West for Friday night’s games, the Jazz will not face the two Los Angeles teams who sandwich them in the standings during this streak, but in addition to facing the Mavericks in fifth twice, they will see also the Denver Nuggets, fourth, and the San Antonio Spurs, eighth, twice each in the following month, and the Houston Rockets, sixth, three times.
Five of those games will take place at Vivint Arena and four will be on the road. Only one game separates Utah and Denver in Friday night’s standings.
In addition, there will be two games against the Portland Trail Blazers, who are currently not in the top eight in the West, but they have been incredibly ravaged by injuries this season and are in better health.
Jazz playmaker Mike Conley admitted after practice Friday that the team is aware that the schedule is about to get tougher. On the contrary, they are looking forward to the challenge after having covered much of the last six weeks.
“We don’t shy away from the job at hand,” Conley said. “We understand that we have a lot of good teams coming in and when we go on the road as well, but I think we are just in a good place physically and mentally where every day we go in, work, try to improve every day and worried about the next game, without looking too far ahead. “
The obvious setback to playing these teams so many times over the next few weeks is that Utah haven’t seen any of the playoff teams listed above this season, and they’ve only faced the Trail Blazers once.
“I wouldn’t say it’s problematic. It’s unique in a way, ”Utah head coach Quin Snyder said on Friday of how his team has had so few direct observations on so many conference contenders. “At the same time, we played against the Clippers and the Lakers and (Oklahoma City Thunder). It’s part of the schedule.
Saturday’s game against Dallas will be the only prodigy Luka Doncic will play in Salt Lake City (except playoffs) this season. The 20-year-old Slovenian was named the starting Thursday for the February 16 NBA All-Star Game and is averaging 29.1 points, 9.6 rebounds and nine assists per game.
“Dude, he’s awesome,” Conley said. “He’s got it all in his game. With his size and skill, he’s one of the few players who can do what he can, so it will be a tough challenge for all of us. We’re definitely stuck and will try to find a way to slow it down as best we can. “
Saturday’s game will be somewhat unique considering its start at 3 p.m. as part of the NBA’s efforts to make more games available to watch earlier in Europe and Africa. Rather than report anything negative about a different departure time, Conley said it would be nice to do it earlier than usual.
“I think most of us like it,” he said. “You can go to dinner afterwards at a good hour, you know, 7 pm instead of 10 pm, 11:30 am I think that’s really cool.
On Friday afternoon, the Mavericks reportedly made trades to acquire centers Willie Cauley-Stein and Justin Patton following the Achilles tendon injury suffered by Dwight Powell earlier this week. Dallas reportedly sent the Golden State Warriors a second-round pick that once belonged to the Jazz in exchange for Cauley-Stein.