Third seed is within reach, but you wouldn't know that listening to the Utah Jazz

Third seed is within reach, but you wouldn't know that listening to the Utah Jazz

OKLAHOMA CITY — Moments after their impressive win in Houston on Wednesday night, the Utah Jazz got a couple of questions that this team hasn’t been asked in a long time.

1. Are you focusing on trying to make a push at Houston for the third seed in the Western Conference?

2. How do you think you’ll do in the playoffs?

The days of chasing the eighth seed and wrapping things up the day the regular season ends are over for this team that has endured a multi-year rebuilding process and hasn’t been in the postseason since 2012.

Winning four in a row and picking up a road victory that puts some pressure on the No. 3 Rockets are signs of that.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder was at a momentary loss for words when asked if he thought the third seed was a possibility in the aftermath of the 115-108 win at the Toyota Center.

“No. It’s a good win. I’ll say that,” Snyder said after searching for the right words to answer that question. “I’m still (thinking), ‘I want to make the playoffs.’ We’re getting closer to that.”

Snyder just doesn’t think it would be smart of his players to focus on catching the Rockets. He’d rather them worry about themselves and, of course, Saturday afternoon’s big matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“We’ve been a work in progress for most of the year,” Snyder said. “I think the best thing for us to do is just try to continue to get better and get guys healthy and see where we end up.”

That sentiment was echoed in the upbeat visitors locker room.

Third-year guard Rodney Hood seemed stunned when a reporter asked how he thought they would do in the playoffs, perhaps partially because the postseason is still a month away and maybe because it still doesn’t seem real that Utah will make it.

Fans still might be pinching themselves after seeing management blow up the team, first by trading Deron Williams away and then by allowing Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap to sign elsewhere.

That began a rebuilding process that hit rock bottom with the 25-win season three years ago at the end of the short-lived Tyrone Corbin era.

Things have been on the upswing since then, as Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood blossomed and as veterans George Hill, Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw joined the fun.

“We’re just trying to get here (in the playoffs) as far as right now and then we’ll see what happens and who we’re matched up with and things like that,” Hood said. “For now, we’re just trying to play good basketball until the end of the season.”

Backup Jeff Withey pointed out that Wednesday’s win could have some importance because it gave Utah a 2-1 tiebreaker advantage over Houston. That might come in handy because the Jazz (41-24) also moved to within three games of the Rockets (44-21) with 17 games remaining.

But Withey said this subject isn’t a topic of conversation behind closed locker room doors.

“We don’t really talk too much about the playoffs,” Withey said. “I feel like we’re just trying to take it one game at a time and not get ahead of ourselves because that can get kind of dangerous and (make us) lose focus on the here and now.” Even the team’s most outspoken player, Gobert, stayed neutral with his response. He said he’s “not really” shooting for the third spot.

“It’s a long season. It’s one game at a time,” Gobert said. “We have a big game coming up, so it’s a great win. We’ve just got to keep getting better and keep getting those wins.”

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While the Jazz have closed the gap a bit on the Rockets for the No. 3 seed by winning seven of nine, they’ve also given themselves a bit of breathing space at No. 4. Utah holds a two-game lead over the Clippers (39-26) and a five-game advantage over the Thunder and Grizzlies (both 36-29).

JAZZ NOTES: Utah managed to beat the Rockets without two starters, but the Jazz could get point guard George Hill and power forward Derrick Favors back in time for Saturday’s 1 p.m. MST showdown with the Thunder. The team listed Hill (left great toe soreness) and Favors (left knee soreness) as questionable vs. OKC. Reserve point guard Shelvin Mack will miss his fifth straight game with a left ankle sprain.

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Published at Sat, 11 Mar 2017 02:55:00 +0000