December 09, 2014

In their bid to secure their first playoff berth in four years, the Utah Jazz may benefit from the San Antonio Spurs likely caring about only one thing.

That would be the first unbeaten home season in NBA history, so Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is likely to rest the meat of his lineup when his team visits the Jazz on Tuesday night with little to play for in the opener of a three-game trip.

With this contest and a visit to Denver sandwiching Thursday's matchup at Golden State, there's no reason for Popovich to give heavy minutes to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili against the Jazz or Nuggets.

Sure, the Spurs (64-12) have a mathematical chance to catch the Warriors for the top seed in the Western Conference, but it's highly unlikely.

Utah (39-38), on the other hand, is battling Dallas and Houston for the West's final two postseason berths. The Jazz are tied with the Mavericks and a game ahead of Houston, and the Texas rivals are set for a crucial matchup in Dallas on Wednesday night.

If Utah can finish above both and claim seventh place, a matchup awaits against the Spurs, who swept the Jazz out of the postseason in the first round in 2011-12.

All three teams have five games remaining and each took care of business Sunday, when Utah put its stout defense on full display in Phoenix with a 101-86 victory over the Suns that was its fourth in five games.

Gordon Hayward led five players in double figures with 22 points and the Jazz forced Phoenix into 8-of-27 shooting from long range and 21 turnovers that led to 26 points.

"It's our defense. We know that's our calling card," said Rodney Hood, who had 18 points and seven assists. "We're really helping each other out and making people take tough shots and we're just living with the results."

Utah is second to San Antonio (92.6) at 95.9 points allowed per game, but it's been even better at 88.9 during its 10-3 surge into contention. The only teams to top 100 in those 13 games are Oklahoma City (113) and Golden State, which needed overtime for 103.

The Jazz may be playing outstanding defense, but that hasn't been the case while losing the first three matchups against the Spurs this season. San Antonio has averaged 112.3 points while holding Utah to 85.7, a differential of 26.6 that is the Spurs' largest against a West opponent this season.

Hayward was held in check with 11 points per game on 32.4 percent shooting in those contests, while Hood averaged just 8.3 and shot 33.3 percent.

Since the start of the 2010-11 season, Utah has lost 16 of 20 against San Antonio with all the victories coming in Salt Lake City.

Losing to the Spurs on their home floor is a league-wide epidemic, one the Raptors got a taste of in Sunday's 102-95 loss as San Antonio improved to 39-0 at AT&T Center. Leonard had a career-high 33 points and Aldridge had 31 points and 15 rebounds to help the Spurs set a franchise record for wins in a season.

San Antonio is trying to top the 1985-86 Boston Celtics, who went 40-1 at home, and they'll certainly have to earn it with their final two home games coming against the Warriors and Thunder.

"We don't pay attention, nor are allowed to care," guard Danny Green said. "It's fun to be a part of something big, or be a part of history or make history, but we're looking at the bigger pictures."

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