Utah Jazz: Togetherness and defensive cohesion making playoff dreams a real possibility

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Sitting in the final spot in the Western Conference playoff picture and boasting a one-game lead over the Houston Rockets, the Utah Jazz have been one of the surprise packages of the 2015-16 season.

While the Rockets and their star duo of James Harden and Dwight Howard have failed to click, leaving the franchise with the distinct possibility of missing the postseason after reaching the Conference Finals last year, along with disappointing campaigns for the Milwaukee Bucks and New Orleans Pelicans, the Jazz have taken full advantage.

They may not have a superstar within their ranks, but what they do have is a solid base of togetherness, defensive cohesion and a number of scoring threats that would make them a troublesome task for the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs.

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That is not saying they can beat the defending champions. The Warriors swept the regular season series 4-0, but the Jazz have grown in confidence as the campaign has gone on and would hold no fear after their four-year absence from postseason action.

With the backcourt duo of Shelvin Mack and Rodney Hood, they have a pairing who are combining for an average in excess of 26 points a night. Hood is a capable shooter from distance, like most shooting guards in the league today, and has sunk 155 buckets from deep at a percentage of 36.5.

Mack is not a bad range shooter either, since joining the Jazz in February, he has been shooting 39 percent and his average of 5.5 assists per game make him an all-around threat at the point.

But their real power comes in the frontcourt. If you were to label one of their starting five a 'star' it would have to be their small forward and 2011 draft pick Gordan Hayward.

The former Duke product has been an important player throughout his five seasons in Salt Lake City but is enjoying a career-high scoring year as he has become pivotal to the franchise on both ends of the court.

Averaging 19.6 points per outing, he has become a threat inside and is also adept at dialling in from behind the arc. But while the organisation have a number of capable scorers throughout their roster, it is their defensive organisation that has really stood out in an impressive season.

Much of the credit has to go to head coach Quin Snyder, who is in his second year at the helm. Across the board, the Jazz are a solid defensive team. They are ranked second in opponent points per game at 95.8, only the San Antonio Spurs can boast a lower average.

They also limit the number of fouls per night, ranking tenth in opponent free throws attempted on average, and their perimeter defence is also among the best in the league, normally allowing 21.9 three-point attempts each outing, putting them as the fifth best in the NBA.

With French big man Rudy Gobert dominating the paint on a nightly basis, pulling down 11.1 rebounds and swatting 2.2 shots per game, and power forward Derrick Favors dropping 16.6 points to go with his strong performance facing his own basket, Utah certainly have a solid foundation.

Defense has been the major factor in the Jazz's push to the final playoff spot and having occupied the eight position for the majority of the season, it would be painful to see them throw it away now.

With four games left against the L.A. Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks and L.A. Lakers, their fate is certainly in their own hands. With Kobe Bryant's final game coming up, they have the chance to be party poopers, however, they will certainly be having their own celebration.

In a conference packed with superstar talent and difference makers, the Jazz are a franchise built around cohesion, togetherness and a never say die attitude. They have all the tools in place to have a successful future and with one of their brightest talents, Dante Exum, set for a return from a year-long layoff next season, the only way is up for the organisation.

Beating the Warriors, though, well that is a different story altogether.

Northwest Division
Western Conference
Rodney Hood
Utah Jazz
Gordon Hayward

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