Inside The Utah Jazz’s Hot Streak And Can This Translate to Success in the NBA Playoffs?

Updated: February 16, 2021
Donovan Mitchell pic 2

No matter how you slice it, the Utah Jazz are red hot. Entering play on Monday, they’re riding a seven-game winning streak. Prior to a loss to Denver, they won 11-straight before that. Utah has lost one game since an 0-2 back-to-back in New York with blowout losses to the Nets and Knicks.

Perhaps more impressively, Utah is winning these games decisively. In the 19-game stretch, they are 17-1-1 against the point spread. Included in that are double-digit wins against Milwaukee (twice), New Orleans (twice), Golden State, Boston, and Miami. They are only the third team in NBA history to have 16 double-digit wins in a 20-game span. Five different players have led the team in scoring during the stretch as well, meaning they aren’t relying on one player to get it done—it’s a true team effort.

Under head coach Quin Snyder, this Jazz team is doing things that even the Stockton and Malone teams didn’t even accomplish in Utah. So, how are they doing it? And, most importantly, can they sustain it over the course of the season and into the playoffs?

Donovan Mitchell Proving to Be a Force

Even though there are many contributors, Donovan Mitchell is emerging as a bona fide NBA star. You might remember his coming-out party during last year’s playoffs, as despite a first-round exit to Denver in seven games, Mitchell became the only active player to have two 50-point performances in the NBA playoffs (and, ironically, Jamal Murray became the second one later in that series), and he did it within the first four games of that series. His 57 points in Game 1 was the third-best scoring output in playoff history, trailing only Michael Jordan’s 63 in 1986 and Elgin Baylor’s 61 in 1962.

Mitchell’s scoring averages have crept up every year, in which is now his fourth season in the league. He’s gone from 20.5 points in his rookie season to 24.2 in 2020-21, with his average in the past 10 games being 26, including a season-high 36 twice during this 18-1 stretch.

Crashing the Boards

Armed with two-time NBA defensive player of the year, Rudy Gobert is anchoring a team that leads the NBA in rebounds and is third in creating second chances on the offensive glass. Gobert’s scoring numbers are down slightly (14.0 points per game compared to a career-high 15.9 two seasons ago), but the Jazz are employing more of a team philosophy, and they don’t need scoring from Gobert, they need his defensive presence. His 13.4 rebounds per game is in line with his career-high from a season ago and ranks third in the NBA. He’s led the team in boards in every game but one over the past 19.

Another name that’s emerging on defense is Royce O’Neale, who was charged with guarding Jayson Tatum, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Jimmy Butler over the past several days and did so admirably, as Tatum and Butler were held well under their points-per-game average.

Can They Keep It Up?

Teams that have recorded long regular-season winning streaks aren’t necessarily playoff juggernauts and instead just got hot for an extended period of time during a long season. Will Utah be different?

The answer to that question may come in the next two weeks. Prior to the All-Star break starting on March 4, Utah plays Philadelphia twice, the LA Clippers twice, and the defending champion Lakers once. Much of this winning streak has been built against Eastern Conference teams, so we will see how they perform against the West’s best and the team that’s running away with the top-seed in the East so far.
And despite losing in the first round of the playoffs last year, they did hold a 3-1 series lead against Denver before losing the final three. Last year’s playoffs was also a unique situation, as each game was played on a neutral court before no fans. Utah will surely take the lessons learned during the playoffs last year and work to make sure that there isn’t a repeat in this postseason.

If they can also secure the top seed in the Western Conference, they will likely avoid having to play both Los Angeles teams in the playoffs, as the chances are that the Clippers and Lakers would be the second and third seed in some order. That’s also assuming that Anthony Davis’s Achilles injury isn’t severe.

The Jazz can also win games in many different fashions. They can outscore other teams, especially from long range, as Utah is on pace to set the NBA record for 3-pointers in a game. If they’re having an off-night on offense, they can still clamp down on defense and keep the score low. They’ve kept eight of their last 19 opponents to under 100 points, which isn’t easy to do in today’s NBA.

Utah is drawing comparisons to the 2004 Detroit Pistons and 2014 San Antonio Spurs teams that each won championships with a balanced attack rather than relying on one (or more) superstar. We’ll know come this summer whether those comparisons will prove to be accurate.

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