The playoff chase continues as the Jazz return from a three game road trip that saw them extend their season high road losing streak to nine games.
Dallas supplied the stage for the Jazz’ latest road defeat on Sunday night. Despite winning the battle in the paint, 52-36, Utah struggled to close out open shooters all night, allowing the Mavericks to shoot 9-of-18 from three. Enes Kanter led all Jazz players with 17 points off the bench. Thirty seven-year-old Mike James went 3-of-4 from behind the arc and scored 19 points for the Mavericks off the bench.
With the win the Mavericks moved into a tie with the Jazz for ninth in the Western Conference.
“We can’t get the games back that we lost,” said coach Tyrone Corbin. “We need to learn lessons from it. But we have to find a way to get better.”
Returning home where the Jazz will play eight of their next 10 games it’s an excellent opportunity to improve and pickup ground in the race for the eighth seed. Five of the eight opponents the Jazz will play own sub .500 records; beginning with the Philadelphia 76ers, who visit Energy Solutions Arena on Monday night for the first of a two-game home stand.
The visitors from Philadelphia are already looking toward next season while the Jazz are desperate for a win to remain in the postseason hunt. Last time the teams met, the Sixers were hoping that their prize acquisition Andrew Bynum would soon strengthen their frontcourt. Now they simply hope to ride their talented back court to a strong finish.
A suspect Utah defensive performance resulted in a 99-93 loss in the first meeting this season. The Sixers went 10-of-18 behind the perimeter for the game, thirty two-year-old Jason Richardson making 5-of-7 of his attempts. Luckily Philadelphia will be without the veteran Richardson, which will allow Utah to focus on slowing guard Jrue Holliday, who burned the Jazz for 26 points in November.
Philadelphia has had its share of problems on the road, finally ending its own season high 15-game road losing streak on Sunday night with a win in Sacramento. The Sixers scored a season high 117 points in the win but are only 7-25 away from home this season. The Jazz have beaten the Sixers in 21 of their last 23 meetings in Salt Lake City, including seven straight.
Utah has lost 12 of 15 overall heading into Monday night. Snapping the season high-tying four game slide that has seen the Jazz fall out of the playoff picture will be the first objective to get back on the track that leads to the playoffs.
“I think we’re just losing focus,” said Kanter. “We’ll just have to work on it and stick together.”
Defensively the Jazz are allowing 101.8 points per game during their latest four game skid and opponents are shooting 48 percent against them during that span. The most recent loss in Dallas on Sunday night demonstrated the inconsistencies on defense. Utah scored 37 points in final quarter, but surrendered 30 points in both the third and fourth quarters. A collective team approach will be necessary to slow opposing offenses over the final stretch of the season.
“We’re going to lay everything out there for 12 games and see what happens,” coach Corbin said after Sunday night’s game.
Welcoming a Philadelphia team that was managing just 90.2 points per game heading into Sunday night could be the chance the Jazz need to turn around what has been a lackluster defensive effort recently. Prior to last night’s road win, the Sixers hadn’t won on the road since New Year’s Day when they beat the Lakers; the team the Jazz are fighting with for the final playoff spot in the West.