The Utah Jazz compiled the league’s best February record, moving into the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. Duplicating that success in March with a much tougher schedule won’t be easy.
The Jazz look to extend their season-best winning streak to eight when they open March on the road Sunday night against the Golden State Warriors, the only team to beat them last month.
Utah (36-23) entered February ninth in the West, but moved up to seventh thanks to a 10-1 record during the month. The Jazz are now just one game back of fourth-place Houston and three behind Northwest Division-leading Denver.
Utah concluded February with a 102-89 victory over Sacramento on Saturday, just hours after owner Larry Miller’s funeral at EnergySolutions Arena. Miller died of complications from diabetes on Feb. 20 at age 64.
“It was tough - especially on a game day. It was really emotional, seeing the whole family up there,” said Jazz guard Ronnie Brewer, who had a career-high 26 points. “But when we stepped on the court it was business.”
Offense has largely produced the seven-game winning streak for Utah, which is averaging 107.4 points on 50.5 percent shooting during the run.
Golden State (20-38), meanwhile, has the league’s worst scoring defense (111.6) and has allowed an average of 119.8 points while losing three of its last four games.
Utah took advantage of a February schedule featuring eight of 11 games at home, but plays eight of its first 12 March games on the road. The Jazz are just 3-10 away from Salt Lake City since Dec. 20, including a 116-96 loss at Golden State on Feb. 8 - their last defeat.
Utah is 9-4 against the Warriors overall since the start of the 2005-06 season, but has lost eight of its last 12 visits to Golden State
Deron Williams had 31 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds in the loss to the Warriors three weeks ago, and had 25 points and 15 assists in Utah’s 119-114 home win over Golden State on Jan. 5. In five games against the Warriors since the start of last season, Williams is averaging 27.8 points - his highest scoring average against any opponent in that span.
Golden State won’t be at full strength Sunday, as coach Don Nelson plans to rest captain Stephen Jackson.
Nelson is giving his regulars time off down the stretch as part of a plan to give the team’s younger players more exposure.
“Can’t do nothing about it,” said Jackson, who averaged 27.3 points, 8.1 assists and 5.7 rebounds in 10 February games. “Support the young guys.”
Jackson had 33 points and eight assists in Friday’s 112-109 home loss to Charlotte, but threw away the ensuing inbound pass after the Bobcats’ Boris Diaw hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds remaining.
Golden State has lost 12 games this season in which it either led or was tied in the final 4 minutes.
“We seem to be a little snake bit this year on people making shots, important shots, at the buzzer,” Nelson said. “The last two years we seemed to win all those games. This year we’re losing all those games.”
Jamal Crawford, Golden State’s third-leading scorer (19.0), was given the night off Friday but is expected back in the lineup for this game.