The Utah Jazz’s first playoff berth since 2002-03 was virtually inevitable. Now they have their sights set even higher.
A day after clinching their trip to the postseason by way of a Golden State loss, the Jazz host the Washington Wizards in the teams’ second and final matchup of the season Monday.
The Northwest Division-leading Jazz (45-24) are fourth in the Western Conference and earned their playoff spot when ninth-place Golden State lost 115-113 to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.
The last time the Jazz were in the postseason, their leading scorer was Karl Malone and John Stockton was manning the point. That 2002-03 playoff appearance was Utah’s 20th straight, but none of those resulted in a championship and nine ended with a first-round exit, including the last three.
This year’s squad is well aware of that history, and looking to make some of its own.
“I think that 30 games ago we knew we were going to the playoffs, so it’s not that big of a deal for us right now,” said Jazz reserve Matt Harpring, who was the second-leading scorer on the 2002-03 team. “But we said we didn’t just want to go to the playoffs, we want to go deep in the playoffs.”
Utah has a better chance of doing that if it can earn home-court advantage for at least the first round. The Jazz are 27-7 at home this season, including wins in 11 of their 12 contests at the Delta Center, and opened their current three-game homestand with a 118-108 victory over Memphis on Saturday.
Leading scorer Carlos Boozer had 28 points on 13-of-17 shooting and grabbed 15 rebounds in the win. He’s averaging 24.3 points and 11.0 rebounds in his last four games against Washington (37-31).
Harpring scored 24 points and went 13-of-14 from the free-throw line, and Deron Williams added 21 points and 13 assists for the Jazz, who rebounded from a dismal 104-72 defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday.
“This speaks volumes about our character, how we bounced back from yesterday,” Boozer said. “We’re at our best when we’re helping each other.”
The Jazz will need to do just that to slow down Washington leading scorer Gilbert Arenas, who had 51 points and hit the winning 3-pointer as the Wizards won 114-111 in the teams’ last meeting Jan. 15. Arenas shot 14-for-29 from the field, including 7-for-12 on 3-pointers, and was 16-for-17 from the free-throw line.
Arenas led Washington with 30 points Saturday, but shot just 36.0 percent (9-of-25) as his club fell 111-105 to the Clippers.
“I got a couple of good looks, but they were just harassing. And that’s what they needed to do,” said Arenas, who also had eight assists and five rebounds.
Antawn Jamison added 23 points and 10 rebounds for the Wizards, who were without Caron Butler for a fifth straight game. The All-Star forward is day-to-day with a bruised left knee, and Washington is also missing starting forward Andray Blachte, whose status is uncertain after he sprained his right knee in the third quarter Saturday.
Washington is trying to hold onto a half-game advantage over Miami for the Southeast Division lead, but has gone 1-3 on its five-game road trip. The Wizards are 12-22 away from home and have dropped eight of their last 10 there.