After looking up in the Northwest Division standings all season, one more win could have the Utah Jazz in control of their own playoff destiny.
The surging Jazz look to move into sole possession of first place in the Northwest for the first time this season Monday night when they host the New York Knicks.
Utah (48-26) got off to a slow start and was just two games over .500 on Jan. 8, but has gone a Western Conference-best 29-9 since to move into a tie with Denver atop the division.
“We expected to be at the top of the West,” guard Deron Williams(notes) said after Saturday’s 103-87 win at Washington. “Now, we’re playing better basketball, and we’ve got a different confidence. We’re a better team than we were three months ago.”
The Jazz, who have already clinched a playoff spot, can take over the Northwest lead with a win over the Knicks (26-46), coupled with a Nuggets loss at Southwest Division-leading Dallas on Monday. Utah, which last won the division in 2008, hasn’t been alone atop the Northwest since March 12, 2009.
The Jazz have had no trouble taking care of business at home lately. They’ve won seven straight in Salt Lake City by an average of 18.8 points, and are 17-2 at home since Jan. 6.
This doesn’t bode well for a New York team that opened a five-game road trip Friday with a 132-96 loss at Phoenix, its 12th defeat in 15 games away from Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks were no match for the Suns’ high-powered offense, and have yielded an average of 117.3 points in their last three games.
New York is probably again going to have problems defensively against a Utah team averaging 115.0 points on 54.0 percent shooting in its last six home games.
The Jazz may be without Andrei Kirilenko(notes), but they have proved they can still light up the scoreboard without the star forward. Kirilenko, who is averaging 11.9 points, has sat out five of the last six games with a left calf injury, and Utah isn’t planning on rushing him back.
“We’d rather have him healthy come the playoff run,” Boozer said.
The Jazz are trying to sweep the season series from the Knicks for the first time since 2003-04, but they’ve had trouble squandering late leads in their last two games against them.
At Madison Square Garden on Nov. 9, New York rallied from a 21-point third quarter deficit to tie the score with 1:36 left, but couldn’t complete the comeback as the Jazz won 95-93.
In the last meeting in Salt Lake City on March 30, 2009, the Knicks rallied from 23 down in the third quarter to take a one-point lead with 7:05 remaining, but Utah regrouped and won 112-104.