Jazz need win over Bulls to better themselves

Jazz need win over Bulls to better themselves

The Utah Jazz can surpass last season's victory total by winning seven of their last 10 games.

In the NBA's cutthroat Western Conference playoff chase, that still might not be enough to improve upon their No. 5 postseason seed from a year ago.

Visiting Utah enters Saturday night's game against the Chicago Bulls sensing plenty of urgency. At 42-30, the Jazz are either one-half game ahead or behind three teams -- the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers -- vying for the final four postseason positions, with the Sacramento Kings still harboring an outside chance of a playoff berth.

"The teams are different, the West is different than last year," Jazz shooting guard Donovan Mitchell said. "It is even tougher, so we just have to continue to build."

While Chicago (21-52) will miss the playoffs for the second successive season and the third time in the past four years, the Bulls have shown plenty of effort while playing out the string.

Behind 32 points and 13 rebounds from Lauri Markkanen and a season-high 26 points from Kris Dunn, Chicago defeated Washington 126-120 in overtime on Wednesday, winning its second straight on the heels of a five-game losing streak.

Markkanen surpassed 20 points for the first time since March 1, crediting a consistent work ethic.

"It's nice to make a couple shots," Markkanen said. "I didn't change anything. I just kept working on it every day, before practice, after practice. There were a couple times -- and I knew it before watching film -- where I was fading away and short. So, I was trying to stay focused on my follow-through and being balanced. That's all I did."

Utah's five-game winning streak was snapped with Thursday's 117-114 road loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the last-place team in the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta shot 19 for 40 (47.5 percent) from 3-point range, with nine Hawks making at least one trey. Atlanta struck in transition and on a number of pick-and-roll sets, getting open for shots the same way it did in its first meeting with the Jazz this season.

The Hawks went 14 for 46 from deep in a 16-point loss on Feb. 1, but Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce thought his team exploited the Jazz defense nicely.

"We found a lot of holes," Pierce said. "I remember coming out of that game and kicking ourselves. We shot 46 3s against a team that doesn't allow threes at that volume, and I'd take every single one of them that we got in that game. It was just one of those nights."

Although the Jazz credited Atlanta's execution in Thursday's rematch, players also acknowledged their share of mental lapses and miscommunication.

"It just took us a little bit to get going, but we figured it out," Mitchell said. "They were hot, then they got cold, then they got hot again late."

Jazz coach Quin Snyder applauded the team's recovery from a slow start, but has stressed that the Jazz need more consistent effort as their four-game road trip concludes.

"We weren't as dialed in as we needed to be defensively in the first half," Snyder said. "I really liked how we responded in the third quarter. We came out and started getting stops, and we got easy stuff on offense off our defense."

--Field Level Media
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