Are the Jazz Finally Out of Their Slump?
Look, we don’t have to talk about January any more than we already have. Let’s live in the here and now, where the Utah Jazz finally look like a team worth watching again.
Currently midway through a six-game homestand, things are looking up. The Jazz beat Denver close last Wednesday to complete a season sweep over the Nuggets (despite awful perimeter shooting), then turned in a convincing wire-to-wire victory over the visiting Nets. Donovan Mitchell seems to have rediscovered something on offense, as his 32 points on 13-of-26 shooting rallied the Jazz past a floundering Knicks team despite multiple double-digit deficits.
Three wins are admittedly little more than a blip in the NBA’s 82-game season, but the recent comeback victory over New York feels like a true turning point. Where once Utah failed to defend, they instead seemed to attack, holding the Knicks to 24% shooting from distance. When New York appeared to make its move—turning a 10-point deficit into a 12-point lead in a near-catastrophic third quarter for the Jazz—Utah remained in the fight.
Comeback Win Over NYK Feels Like a Key Moment in the Season
The instinct to battle rather than accept a tough loss matters. For a full month, the Jazz seemed to play without an edge. Julius Randle didn’t seem particularly concerned with his Knicks squad’s losing record Monday as he waded through Utah’s defense for the contest’s first three quarters—why should he be? Utah hasn’t given teams reasons to be afraid since a nice December run that feels like an eternity ago.
Monday marked the return of something important in Quin Snyder’s team. Maybe not the killer instinct needed to contend for a title (though there’s still plenty of time for that), but a competitive fire mostly absent from the past several weeks of Jazz basketball. Mitchell’s return from concussion protocol appears complete, and his ability to ascend into league superstar mode will undoubtedly be needed from now until June for Utah to make a real mark on the postseason.
Despite Struggles, Utah Remains Primed For Home Court in the Playoffs
Joe Ingles is still out for the year with a knee injury, hampering both the team’s established rotations and its ability to make significant changes at the trade deadline (though some roster tinkering isn’t entirely out of the question just yet). Rudy Gobert is still awaiting a fully healthy return, without whom the Jazz would have zero hope of returning to last year’s regular-season dominance.
What’s more, there continues to be a lot of smoke surrounding the allegedly awkward relationship between Mitchell and Gobert—not exactly the environment you want in a locker room searching for its heart and soul.
Despite many reasons to carry doubt forward into Utah’s second half schedule, they aren’t as far off-pace as you’d think. The Jazz still boast a 33-21 record and rank no. 4 in the western conference, 10.5 games behind the first-place Suns and two games ahead of no. 5 Dallas.
Though it does sting to look back on last season and compare notes (Utah was 40-14 after the same number of games in 2021), you could do a lot worse than playing poorly for four weeks just to come out the other side in line to host a first-round playoff series.
The Road Ahead
Utah will enjoy several opportunities to flex its newfound competitive spark this coming week, with a huge home contest against Golden State followed by a downy-soft three game stretch against Orlando, Houston, and Los Angeles. Using this week’s matchups to get right and iron out some of January’s concerns could go a long way toward mending some of Utah’s alleged locker room sore spots.
After that it’s a potentially difficult March, complete with a pair of 5- and 6-game road trips to bookend the month. For Utah to survive—indeed, for the team to reclaim the confidence and intimidation factor of last year’s top-seeded squad—racking up wins in the coming week will be essential. With Gobert on the verge of returning and Mitchell playing to his potential on both ends of the floor, there’s still reason to hold out hope for the Jazz doing something special this year.