Jazz hoping 2nd-half momentum carries vs. Spurs
Can the Utah Jazz repeat history and build momentum over the second half of the season for a second straight season?
The Jazz are certainly trending in that direction heading into Saturday's clash with the San Antonio Spurs. Utah has won 13 of 18 games since the start of January -- including nine of 11 at in Salt Lake City. It is one reason the Jazz didn't make a move amid the league-wide trading frenzy before the NBA trade deadline passed on Thursday.
Defense is making the difference as usual. Over the last 15 games, the Jazz have posted a 105.5 defensive rating -- ranking second among NBA teams. Utah's defensive tenacity showed in the fourth quarter of a 116-88 victory over Phoenix on Wednesday.
The Jazz held the Suns to 17 points in the final quarter. Phoenix scored just four baskets over the final nine minutes to enable Utah to pull away after the Suns kept it close for three quarters.
"End of the third and start of the fourth, we were able to lock in and make it a bit tough on them," forward Joe Ingles said. "Which, obviously, we should have tried to do from the start of the game."
Utah's defense makes significantly easier on offense when it is operating at peak efficiency. The Jazz have shot 50 percent or better from the floor in each of their last three victories and have allowed only three opponents to shoot better than 50 percent since the start of January.
Utah is 42-1 at home since November 5, 2014 when shooting at least 50 percent from the field.
"It is a mix of everything," center Rudy Gobert said. "Communication is the thing that keeps us connected."
San Antonio could use a dose of positive momentum before the NBA All-Star break. The Spurs have been staggering to the break after enduring a slew of ragged defensive performances.
A 127-118 loss to Portland on Thursday dropped San Antonio to 0-3 on its current road trip. It is the first time that the Spurs have opened their traditional mid-February rodeo road trip with three straight losses.
The culprit is porous defense. San Antonio is allowing opponents to score 59.3 points in the paint and 34.3 fastbreak points per game over the team's last three contests. That's last among all NBA teams in both categories over that stretch.
"We're scoring enough points to win games," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told the San Antonio Express-News on Thursday. "The defensive end is what's let us down. That's where our emphasis is."
Utah torched San Antonio's defense for 48 minutes when the Spurs last visited Salt Lake City on Dec. 4. The Jazz raced to a 139-105 victory to earn their fourth straight home win over San Antonio.
Seven Utah players scored in double figures in the contest -- led by Donovan Mitchell with 20 points. The Jazz set season highs in field-goal percentage (60.7) after making 51 of 84 shots. Utah also set a franchise record for 3-pointers made, connecting on 20-of-33 (60.6) attempts from the perimeter.
--Field Level Media
Updated February 8, 2019