Jazz-Warriors Preview

The Associated Press

When Mark Jackson was hired as Golden State Warriors coach in June 2011, he vowed to raise expectations for a franchise that had qualified for the playoffs once since 1994.

Now Jackson is hoping his team isn't satisfied with simply reaching the postseason.

Golden State can clinch a playoff berth with a victory Sunday night while putting a damper on the visiting Utah Jazz's playoff hopes in the process.

The Warriors went 23-43 in the lockout-shortened season of 2012 - Jackson's first leading the team. They've made a dramatic turnaround this season, improving to 44-32 with their third straight win, 111-107 over Phoenix on Friday.

Golden State, which last made the playoffs in 2006-07 when Utah eliminated it in five games in the conference semifinals, holds a slim lead on seventh-place Houston for the Western Conference's No. 6 seed.

"This isn't a surprise to those guys in the locker room," Jackson said. "They put the time in, they worked their tails off and this was a goal. People have counted out this group, people continue to count out this group. We're going to continue to chip away at each and every one of our goals.

"That being said, we'll talk about it when it's said and done."

Stephen Curry, averaging 26.3 points during a 7-2 stretch for the Warriors, has been the main catalyst for a team consisting of many players without postseason experience.

He scored 18 points and tied his career high with 15 assists as Golden State overcame an 18-point deficit Friday.

''There are a lot of people in the locker room that haven't tasted (the playoffs) before,'' Curry said. ''For us to be right there and have a home game to clinch it, we understand we have a bigger goal than that, but it will nice to get the 'X' by your name.

"We are a lot more mature team and are playing a lot better basketball, obviously, going into the last six games of the year.''

Utah isn't feeling quite as comfortable about its postseason prospects as it trails the Los Angeles Lakers by one-half game for the final spot.

After Sunday's contest, the Jazz (40-37) face Oklahoma City and have a home-and-home set with Minnesota before finishing at Memphis on April 17.

Utah, though, is playing some its best basketball down the stretch. Gordon Hayward scored 23 points as the Jazz beat New Orleans 95-83 on Friday for their sixth victory in seven tries.

"We've played relatively well here coming down to the end," Hayward said. "Golden State is going to be a tough test for us and we've got to be ready for that one."

The Jazz have split two meetings with the Warriors this season, winning the last contest 115-101 on Feb. 19 despite 29 points from Curry. Al Jefferson scored 24 - his average over his last three games versus Golden State.

"Now it's on to a tougher game on the road against a plus-.500 team and we'll see where we're at," said forward Paul Millsap, who had 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists Friday. "We know we have what it takes to get (to the playoffs). We feel like we're the better team, we just have to go out there and prove it."

The Warriors have held the Jazz to an average of 87.0 points while winning three of the last four home meetings.

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