On January 22, the Utah Jazz went to Atlanta and took a loss at the hands of the Hawks to fall to 19-28 on the season. In the national media’s NBA power rankings that week, Utah hit rock bottom. Sports Illustrated had the Jazz as the 27th best team in the league. Even the USA Today and FiveThirtyEight analytical models, which had been bullish on the Jazz’s playoff chances, faltered, placing the Jazz at 18 that week.
Since then, the Jazz have won 15 of their last 17 games. While they remain out of the playoff picture at the moment, they’re also just 1.5 games back of the 8 seed and only 3 games back of having a shot at home court in the first round of the playoffs with 18 games remaining. The media’s power rankings reflect this turnaround. Even after the streak was broken, Utah remains a top 10 team in five of the eight rankings we’re tracking. They’re in the top half of the league in all but one. (Looking at you, Rotoworld..... Again.)
The Jazz have won 14 of their past 16 games, with the only losses coming against the red-hot Trail Blazers and Rockets. And more wins could be on the way: Six of Utah’s next nine games are against teams at least 20 games below .500. -- Matt Williams
Donovan Mitchell took an award that seemed like a run away at the start of the year and has made it interesting. Rookie of the Year feels dead-close thanks to just how important Mitchell has been for the Jazz this season. This guy is going to be a superstar someday.
The Jazz have a higher net rating than the Wizards, Blazers, Pelicans, Bucks and Cavaliers. It’s remarkable how this team has bounced back this season. Donovan Mitchell deserves a lot of love, but so does Rudy Gobert. The Stifle Tower is putting together another fine season, and he still has stretches in which he thoroughly dominates a game on the defensive end. Gobert’s game will never be sexy in the pace-and-space era, but he’s a huge factor in Utah’s success.
The Jazz are the only West team with more games remaining against teams with losing records (10) than against teams with winning records (9). They’ve also won eight straight games on the road, where they’ll play their four remaining games against teams that are currently sitting between third and eighth in the West (including one in New Orleans on Sunday). But they don’t play any of those teams more than once, so they still need some help in order to get back to the playoffs. They’ve had the league’s best defense in the seven-plus weeks since Rudy Gobert returned from injury and have allowed less than 90 points per 100 possessions in 150 minutes with Gobert and Jae Crowder on the floor together.
Over Utah’s last six games, Rudy Gobert is averaging 16.8 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 1.2 steals, while shooting a scorching 72.0 percent from the floor. Still, despite winning two straight, the Jazz are still two games behind the Nuggets, who are currently the eighth seed in the West.
Since the beginning of the 15-2 stretch, the Jazz have a defensive rating of 100.4, which is best in the league straight up bonkers. For reference, the last team to have a defensive rating better than that over the course of a season was the 2015-16 San Antonio Spurs at 99.5. They won 67 games that year. Utah’s schedule is soft down the stretch and the Jazz will need to take every advantage they can to make the postseason in the Western Conference this season.
(h/t Basketball Reference)