Utah Jazz emerge as dark horse in Western Conference playoff race

Left for dead long ago, the Utah Jazz are suddenly the hottest team in the NBA. The Jazz have won 10 straight games and sit just 1.5 games in back of the New Orleans Pelicans for the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference.

Despite losing Gordon Hayward in the offseason, the addition of point guard Ricky Rubio and the emergence of Rookie of the Year candidate Donovan Mitchell have made the Jazz a threat once again. According to the Deseret News, Utah has the NBA’s best defensive rating (97.4), the best net rating (15.0), rebound percentage (53.8), and player impact estimate (58.0) during this hot streak.

Rudy Gobert’s health, plus steady play from Derrick Favors and Joe Ingles, have enabled the Jazz to win 10 straight–which ESPN estimates would have stood at 0.02% given the opponents. In addition, Jae Crowder has come over from the Cleveland Cavaliers and given head coach Quin Snyder a boost.

Crowder struggled through much of his season with Cleveland, but he has new life in Utah. The versatile forward has made an impact on both ends of the floor, as he’s found more comfort with the Jazz.

The Golden State Warriors have traditionally won with a “Strength in Numbers” motto, and Cleveland has regained its championship form by committing to the team concept. The same has applied in Utah.

“They have pride, collective pride,” Snyder told the Deseret News. “You lose games, but if you lose, you want to lose a certain way, if that makes sense. Lose by competing and playing as a team. That’s basically all we’ve been doing.”

The results have worked in Utah’s favor. Not only have they beaten the Warriors and San Antonio Spurs, they have eluded the toughest part of their schedule. Two of the Jazz’s next three games with come against the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks, both firmly entrenched at the bottom of the standings.

Utah will continue to jockey with the LA Clippers and New Orleans Pelicans for the eighth and final seed out West.

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