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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz are in the midst of an incredible streak of basketball success. After knocking off the Orlando Magic Monday, the Jazz have won 15 of 17 games, including an 11-game winning streak that carried them into the All-Star break.
The streak has kept the Jazz in a tight Western Conference playoff race and provided fans with a taste of what the future of this basketball team may hold.
When the Jazz began their win streak, they were the 10th-ranked team in the Western Conference. Currently — and somewhat remarkably — despite their incredible recent play, the Jazz remain the 10th-ranked team in the West.
That’s not to say the Jazz haven’t made up ground on their Western Conference opponents. Before the win streak started, the Jazz were nine games under .500, and sat five games back of the 8th seed in the playoffs. Today, they are four games over .500, and just 1.5 games from the 8th-seeded Nuggets. Regardless of the playoff gap closing, the extremely hot play of nearly every playoff hopeful in the West is unique.
Of the 10 teams currently slated to make the playoffs — or at least competing for a playoff spot — an incredible five of them have won at least eight of their last 10 games, including the Jazz. Two others have won seven of 10, while only the Minnesota Timberwolves and San Antonio Spurs have won fewer than half of their last 10 games.
The playoff forecast models of both ESPN and FiveThirtyEight currently predict the Jazz to be on the outside looking in of a postseason opportunity.
In most scenarios, had a team been nine games under .500 so close to the NBA’s trade deadline, and that far on the outside of the playoffs looking in, I would have advocated for the Jazz to build for the future by tanking the remainder of the season; in fact, I did. And now, my opinion has changed.
While the Jazz roster certainly could use another high-level lottery pick — as could every NBA team — I don’t know if the value that player would add in the near future would be more valuable than the experience and the taste of winning the team has developed over the past month and a half.
It is no coincidence that Rudy Gobert was absent over the majority of the stretch when the Jazz lost 15 of 19 games that pushed them outside of the playoff picture. The All-NBA center played in and finished just four of the 19 games with the Jazz over that lowly stretch, and had only returned to action from a previous injury one game prior to the losing streak.
With Gobert healthy, the Jazz have won 60 percent of their games. Had they done that for an entire season, they’d be poised to finish with the third best record in the NBA. With that said, the Jazz front office was right to stay competitive at the trade deadline, acquiring the long-term rights of Jae Crowder from the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Rodney Hood, who may have signed elsewhere this summer.
With the recent uptick in competitiveness in the Eastern Conference, the gap between fringe playoff teams and the rest of the NBA has diminished significantly. That shrinking gap has lessened the impact of making or missing the playoffs based on a team's draft positioning.
Despite being nine games below .500 on Jan. 16, the Jazz bet on making a competitive run during the second half of their season, and chose to continue to pursue the playoffs.
While not every gamble pays off, in retrospect, this was the correct decision for the Jazz. Despite the struggle to climb the Western Conference standings since January, the Jazz's winning ways should pay dividends culturally and with the goodwill of their fan base.