After a 14-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 22, optimism was in short supply surrounding the Utah Jazz. The team was 19-28, and even at that relatively early point in the NBA calendar, Utah’s five-game deficit in the Western Conference Playoff race seemed almost prohibitive. From that moment forward, though, the lightbulb apparently went on for Quin Snyder’s team, and the result is the league’s longest active winning streak — 11 consecutive victories.
Over that period, the Jazz lead the NBA in net rating (+14.6) and defensive rating (97.7), avoiding any thought of fluke when compiling the wins. Rookie of the Year candidate Donovan Mitchell has been fantastic, but in the same breath, it has not necessarily been a superhuman effort from the first-year guard that has carried Utah to sudden greatness.
Big man Rudy Gobert suddenly resembles the All-Star center that the Jazz need, dominating defensively and providing sneakily effective offensive production with quality finishing and gravity. Elsewhere, point guard Ricky Rubio (injured in the last three wins) flipped the switch, averaging 18.9 points, 7.6 assists, and 5.4 rebounds over an eight-game sample while connecting on more than 50 percent of his three-point attempts.
There is, of course, reason to be skeptical of this level of success from Utah, particularly on the offensive end of the floor. Rubio isn’t going to shoot like this, the Jazz have received high-end play from Joe Ingles and others, and Utah may not improve with the swap of Rodney Hood for Jae Crowder. Still, Utah’s defensive baseline is remarkably high with Gobert on the floor and, if the French big man can simply stay healthy (the Jazz are 19-13 with him in the lineup this season), a playoff spot now seems more likely than not.
Just how high can/should Utah rise in this week’s All-Star break edition of our Dime Power Rankings? Let’s take a gander.