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News » Jazz putting heat on leaders

Jazz putting heat on leaders

Jazz putting heat on leaders
If they hadn't officially conceded their chances of winning a third consecutive Northwest Division crown back on Jan. 31, the Jazz had to recognize deep down how remote the possibility appeared at the time.

For the second time in a week, the Jazz had suffered an uninspired loss on the road to a division rival. After falling 122-108 at Portland, the Jazz trailed Northwest-leading Denver by 5? games and the Trail Blazers by four games.

Barely a month later, the Jazz aren't about to start clearing banner space at EnergySolutions Arena, but they are back in the division race. Riding an eight-game winning streak, the Jazz trail the Nuggets by only two games and Portland by a half-game.

"If we just keep winning, we'll keep moving up," Deron Williams said. "That's how we've got to look at it. We're not trying to catch one team or look at this team and try to catch them. We're just trying to win Basketball games."

The Jazz will have the chance to gain even more ground with home games Wednesday and Friday against Houston and Denver. Both teams will be arriving in Utah to play the second game of a back-to-back set.

"I think we've got that confidence we should have had all along," Paul Millsap said. "Especially now being healthy, we've got everybody and we're trying to make a nice run at this."

After losing Sunday at Indiana, the Nuggets will play at Detroit tonight, then host Portland on Thursday before Friday's showdown against the Jazz. From six games out as recently as Feb. 18, the Jazz could be leading the division by the end of the week.

A division title would bring a guaranteed top-four playoff seed as well as potential home-court advantage in a first-round series. For his part, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said he didn't pay much attention to the Northwest race.

"There's not anything I can do [about] what the other team does," Sloan said. "Over the years, you see guys hoping this team will lose or they're not playing their guys or something. I can't keep up with that. I don't know what kind of advantage that gives you."

Until they prove they can win consistently on the road, the Jazz likely will have to fight just to make the playoffs, Sloan added. The Jazz's eight-game winning streak, however, has left them in position to climb the standings.

In addition to victories over the L.A. Lakers and Boston --- last season's two NBA Finals teams -- the Jazz have welcomed back Andrei Kirilenko and Carlos Boozer from injuries during the streak and are at full strength for the first time all season.

Not only has he been a fourth-quarter fixture, but Ronnie Brewer also has averaged 21.5 points the last four games. Kyle Korver has broken out of a seasonlong shooting slump while Mehmet Okur has scored 20 points or more in four of the last five games.

"I'm happy, man," Williams said. "My mood is a lot better. Life at home is a lot better. My kids and wife probably like me a lot more. I hate to lose, so when we're losing, I'm in a bad mood, a little depressed. We've been winning, I'm upbeat and happy. Hopefully, we can keep it going."

Williams was nominated for the conference's Player of the Month award, which went to the Lakers' Pau Gasol, who averaged 20.8 points, 10.9 rebounds and shot 58.6 percent as the Lakers went 11-2 even after losing Andrew Bynum to a knee injury.

Williams averaged 23.2 points, 10.9 assists and shot 51.2 percent. Considering he never has been selected conference Player of the Week and has been snubbed three times from the All-Star team, Williams was realistic about his chances.

"That's a great honor to be Player of the Month in a league full of stars," Williams said. Gasol twice was selected Player of the Week in February. Golden State's Stephen Jackson, Houston's Yao Ming and Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant also were nominated. Mr. February

Deron Williams was nominated for, but not chosen as, the Western Conference's Player of the Month for February. The award went to the Lakers' Pau Gasol, who was twice chosen Player of the Week during the month. A look at the numbers for all five nominees:

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: March 4, 2009


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