April 12, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder has been adamant that his team is still playing for something as the season winds down.

There will be no playoffs, and victories only hurt draft positioning, but Snyder hasn't shelved his stars and completely turned to his bench.

He insists a strong finish can carry over into the 2015-16 season.

''We have lots of things to fight for, just not the playoffs,'' Snyder said. ''You can always take steps. ... That's part of becoming good, being able to tap that competitiveness and that intensity and focus at times when maybe it's hard.''

The Jazz have been one of the best teams in the league after the All-Star break. Their .667 winning percentage since then ranks sixth in the NBA. Utah leads the league in fewest points allowed (87.9) and opponents' field goal percentage (.418) during that stretch. Before the break, their opponents' field goal percentage (.458) and their winning percentage (.358) were both the seventh-worst in the league.

General manager Dennis Lindsey is slowly rebuilding with young players, a first-year coach and a patient philosophy. The team, however, has exceeded expectations, and the progression seems to be ahead of schedule. The 2016 playoffs are suddenly a realistic goal.

''Just wanting to keep getting better, improve our chemistry, our communication,'' forward Trevor Booker said. ''It's important for us to finish strong because, hopefully, next year at this time we'll be preparing for the playoffs. For us to finish strong, we can learn a lot about our team and our bodies.

''How we finish this season, it can implicate how we start next season.''

The balance, however, is a delicate one. Snyder is being careful with guys such as Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Trey Burke. Each has missed time recently because of minor injuries, and Snyder doesn't want them wasting time in the offseason rehabbing injuries. He wants them further developing their game. Hayward and Favors both sat out Saturday's game at Portland with a coach's decision while Burke did not travel due to a sore lower back.

The organization is getting looks at reserves Jack Cooley, Bryce Cotton, Elijah Millsap, Jeremy Evans and Chris Johnson. Rookies Dante Exum and Rodney Hood have both had their minutes increased recently.

Burke said all the players are feeling the effects of a long season on their bodies, but he believes the momentum can carry over.

Snyder conceded that it's hard to know exactly what will and can carry over. Individual players have plenty to work on, and that's just part of the growth process when the entire core of the team is young. Snyder believes there's also a mental carry-over.

''We've got nothing to lose and everything to gain,'' guard Joe Ingles said. ''For us, it's about getting better and finishing the season off right.''

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